[Content warning: Mention of sexual violence]
[Editor’s Note: Due to the highly personal nature of this event, The Miscellany News chose not to report on the specifics of what speakers shared during the rally. All quotes in this article are from interviews.]
On Thursday, Oct. 26, dozens of students gathered on the College Center Circle for this year’s Take Back the Night Rally, the first official event of Halloweekend. This marked the second year of the annual tradition at Vassar, which was started in 2016 by Women’s Center Intern Darci Siegel ’20.
“In September of last year, Brock Turner [a Stanford University student who was convicted of sexual assault] was released from jail after only three months [due to] ‘good behavior.’ As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I was very frustrated by that, and as a first-year student, I didn’t know what communities and conversations existed [at Vassar],” explained Siegel. “So I utilized the Women’s Center and came together with a lot of administrators and other students to create a space where we were able to acknowledge that sexual violence and intimate partner violence happens on this campus, that it happens to people of all identities—all gender, racial and sexual identities—which is not often recognized in the discourse around sexual violence.”
Take Back the Night is an international event that aims to provide a space for survivors to share their stories and work toward ending all forms of sexual violence, including sexual assault, sexual harassment and intimate partner violence, among others. The first rallies were held in the 1970s, and a nonprofit that organizes many of these events, the Take Back the Night Foundation, was established in 2001.
Today, Take Back the Night is a common fixture on college campuses, as women between the ages of 18 and 24 are three to four times more likely than women of other ages to experience sexual violence (RAINN, “Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics”).
On Thursday, several student groups tabled before the event began, including YES!, the Feminist Alliance, CHOICE and Vassar Voices for Planned Parenthood.
“CHOICE was really happy to be invited to take part in Take Back the Night,” commented CHOICE co-president Ashley Carey ’18. “People know that we distribute safer sex supplies on campus, but part of safer sex is healthy relationships and consent. People might forget that as part of our mission, but we’re really about sexual health and sexual safety, which is all-encompassing.”
After Siegel and her co-organizer, fellow Women’s Center Intern Cece Bobbitt ’19, made introductory remarks, President Bradley took the stage to commend the students’ hard work in organizing the rally. Other administrators, representing the Women’s Center, the Office of Campus Life and Diversity, the ALANA Center and the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) also addressed the crowd, telling them about the resources available to survivors on campus. ALANA Center Director Wendy Maragh Taylor led the crowd in a cathartic scream of “No!,” which she said can be a way to take action, even when one feels powerless.
Representatives from YES! and the Traditions Committee also spoke. “We’re trying to be really thoughtful about the work that we’re doing, and we’re open to hearing what other folks think about how [the planning of all-campus events] is going and what they need from us in terms of the way that we cultivate space at these events,” Traditions Committee Co-Chair Ashley Hoyle ’18 said in an interview.
“We wanted to work together with Traditions to make sure that there is a level of acknowledgement of [the increased threat of sexual violence amid the drinking and drug use of Halloweekend], a level of support and a sense of activism,” added Siegel. “Hopefully it won’t, but should [sexual violence] happen to any students this weekend, or any future weekend—or past weekend—we want them to feel like there is a group of people from various areas of this cam- pus who will come together and support them.”
Isabel Furman ’19 then performed two songs, an original piece entitled “Body of Water” and a cover of Lesley Gore’s 1963 song “You Don’t Own Me,” which was featured in the first episode of the Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
After the audience was invited to share stories, everyone lit candles and walked with a “Take Back the Night, Break the Silence, End the Violence” banner to the front of Main Building, where they posed for a photo.
“There’s no right way to go about combating sexual assault or facilitating these discussions, so I’m really open to having discussions with people from other organizations, with other individuals, on how we can continue to make this conversation more inclusive and more accessible,” said Siegel. “My philosophy around sexual violence is making the response survivor centered, so gathering all the resources and all the knowledge that I have and saying, ‘What do you want? What do you need? How can I help?’ I hope that people share that philosophy and engage with that and take what they need and share what they can. The conversation never ends.”