[CW: This article mentions sexual and domestic violence.]
Down a spiral staircase and into a dimmed, (electronic) candle-lit room, dozens of people gathered on Friday, Nov. 1 to enjoy an evening meant for listening. Vibrant watercolor pieces depicting genitalia and baby heads adorned the walls. Hot apple cider, brownies and pumpkin bread were served in the back.
The event was a collaboration between Vassar theater group Idlewild (a cohort comprised of women/femmes/GNC individuals who have aligning goals of anti-violence activism), the Women’s Center and the Sexual Assault Violence Prevention Office (SAVP). The three groups aimed to create a space inside the Mug for survivors and supporters alike to share their art across mediums. Dubbed “Take Back the Night,” everything about this evening was purposeful, from the date to the location.
Take Back the Night (TBTN) is an international movement to end sexual, relationship and domestic violence. It began in the 1970s when mainstream media started to discuss sexual violence more openly. Darci Siegel ’20, a Women’s Center intern, passionately elaborated: “It is a movement for people to come together and share experiences, find community and work for a safer world for everyone.”
This is TBTN’s fourth consecutive year at Vassar. It began as a way to demonstrate solidarity with survivors and create communal spaces for those impacted by violence. The idea for this event was based on Idlewild’s upcoming show, themed around witches. “We have been talking a lot about empowerment, and specifically the idea of witches being associated with the night, and, more generally, the idea of women and other marginalized genders reclaiming the nighttime, which was super in line with the Take Back the Night mission,” said Julianna DeAngelis ’20 of Idlewild.
Both the timing and venue of the event was intentional: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, as well as Relationship Abuse Awareness Month, and the Mug was chosen as a location because of its seedy reputation. “The Mug is somewhere where there’s been sexual violence [and] uncomfortable moments,” Siegel expounded.
This gathering was meant as a way to reclaim a space, literally. Sarah Berry Pierce ’22 of Idlewild commented, “We thought it was important to have a space on Halloweekend in particular that celebrates those who aren’t often celebrated. Halloweekend on campus is fun, but we think it could also be safer!”
Those involved in the organization of the event emphasized the importance of reclaiming spaces and creating a community environment where people can feel comfortable. Pierce stated, “As a queer woman, I think it is important that we make spaces on campus where we can celebrate the voices of women and femmes, women and femmes of color, queer, trans and nonbinary people. I wanted to work to create a space on campus where anyone could be involved and proud of themselves and their work, so we did.”
Anyone who wanted to perform could sign up via Google Form, and thus the evening involved a diverse array of talents and performers.
Similarly, Siegel noted her personal connection to the themes of the evening: “As a survivor of sexual assault, seeking community has always been an important part of my own healing process. I wanted to provide that space for other people, and give people the opportunity to share their stories, learn about ways they can contribute to ending sexual violence and stand as allies.”
The performance portion of the evening opened with Julia Rioux ’23 reading aloud two original poems and performing a haunting Regina Spektor song on the keyboard. One of the works questioned whether a sexual interaction had been consensual; another was a calm, yet powerful middle finger to people who make others feel dehumanized: “And an even bigger fuck you to the ones who called me disposable,” Rioux exclaimed.
“Things are going to get corny and queer up in here!” Alive with energy, student performer Sara Inoa ’20 stood still, assuming a sultry persona as they performed their original songs to homemade YouTube beats. The performances that filled the rest of the night included covers of empowering anthems like “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga and “Warrior” by Demi Lovato, as well as original pieces puzzling to make sense of sexual encounters.
The three groups set out to create solidarity, and in that, the evening was a great success, according to Siegel. “Developing trust and a true sense of safety is a huge first step towards creating a culture of accountability. We want to make sure that students know that their voices are heard,” Siegel noted.
Students opened up about personal details of their lives through song, film, watercolor and poetry. The intimacy of the content translated to the warm environment. The atmosphere was warm and the cider was hot. Consider the Mug reclaimed.