“We have the power, we have the right, we are here to take back the night!”
On the evening of April 24, students carrying neon posters and rallying around a bullhorn marched through campus chanting empowering statements at the Take Back the Night (TBTN) march. TBTN provides a platform for students who have been affected by sexual assault to find community and empowerment, said Laura Wishart, fourth-year and co-coordinator of this year’s event.
“Everybody knows someone who has survived sexual violence or sexual assault, whether or not that person has disclosed to them,” Wishart said. “It’s happening to our friends, our classmates, within our families. People have such diverse experiences as well.”
April is nationwide Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In recognition of this, the UC Santa Cruz Women’s Center and Campus, Advocacy, Resources and Education (CARE) organized this year’s TBTN, three days of events that included a rally, march, speakers and community healing activities. CARE and the Women’s Center tabled the events with information and resources from their offices.
TBTN’s mission is to “shatter the silence around sexual violence and to empower survivors.” The event also provided a safe space on campus for survivors of sexual assault to speak out about how sexual assault effects their lives.
Take Back the Night is a globally-practiced march that began in the early 1970s during the two-decade-long second-wave feminism movement, which advocated for equal rights for women. At UCSC, the tradition of TBTN began in 1983 and has since expanded from a rally to include a series of events, like the Survivor Speakout and Healing Art Spaces.
Students at the UCSC TBTN passed around the bullhorn throughout the march, giving everyone an opportunity to lead the group in chants. As the march passed through Kresge, Porter and Rachel Carson colleges, students came out to their balconies and cheered from their dorm windows.
Once the march arrived at Oakes Learning Center (OLC), students could attend the Survivor Speakout, an opportunity for students to share their experience with sexual assault and violence in a safe and brave space.
“[Survivor Speakout is] a way for survivors to reclaim their story and their voice,” said co-coordinator and programs and community outreach intern at the Women’s Center Laura Wishart. “It can be very empowering because it’s a group of your community members and your peers trying to provide some validation, and trying to come together as a community telling them ‘We believe you’ and ‘We support you.’”
In the Oakes Guzman Room, CARE and the Women’s Center offered a Healing Art Space with zine making, aromatherapy, journaling, healing stones and other crafts that ran at the same time as the Speakout. This is the first year the program offered an alternative event for students who didn’t want to attend the Survivor Speakout, but still wanted to be a part of the community.
In the past, TBTN has been a week-long event, Wishart said, but due to changes in administrative staff at the Women’s Center this year, the event was condensed to three days. According to organizers, last year, over 100 people attended the march and the Survivor Speakout. This year there were about 35 people in attendance. Wishart noted the low turnout could’ve been due to the lack of a keynote speaker at the rally this year.
Third-year Jeanette Schneider felt the low attendance at TBTN was representative of campus attitudes toward sexual assault issues.
“No one is talking about it, […]” Schneider said. “That just shows that this campus doesn’t have the awareness that it probably should, the commitment to actually support these issues.”
Event organizers noted that conversations about sexual assault have become mainstream in the past year. The Me Too movement, founded by civil rights activist Tarana Burke in 2006, evolved into a hashtag that is pushing conversations of sexual assault to the forefront of mainstream media and drawing attention to high-profile cases in Hollywood and government.
Organizers noted coverage of the recent iterations of the #MeToo movement predominantly gave space to wealthy, usually white women. In this context, organizers find TBTN important for its ability to create a space for survivors to shape such conversations themselves, where everybody is listened to regardless of social media following or status.
“The Me Too movement is doing a lot to bring a lot of attention to people who have experienced sexual violence in a variety of different ways from different backgrounds,” said CARE director Kelsey Hoie Ferrell. “But there is also a sort of dominant narrative about survivorship, and part of what happens tonight […] is about people being able to reclaim their own stories and their own experiences, whether it’s in that narrative or not.”
The emphasis placed on individuals’ experience at UCSC’s Take Back the Night is a unique opportunity for people whose lives are impacted by sexual assault to be heard.
“People are paying more attention now than perhaps ever before,” Ferrell said, “but especially for the survivors who are […] participating tonight, this is about the power in their everyday lives.”