Take Back the Night was a movement that originated in the 1960s in England and Belgium as a protest started by women who did not feel safe walking alone at night. In the 1970s, there were many rallies held in San Francisco under the “Take Back the Night” theme protesting against “snuff” pornography and violence against women. These protests sparked hundreds of events on college campuses with the hopes of bringing awareness to sexual violence.
Every year during April, which is Sexual Violence Awareness Month, the Feminist Alliance and Womxn of Color Alliance (WOCA) at Colby host a Take Back the Night (TBTN) event. This year, on April 22, was the first year since the pandemic that the event was able to be held completely in person. The night consisted of a rally that involved a large group of students congregating in the Spa to then march around campus. This is meant for survivors and allies to unapologetically take up space on the campus and have their voices heard. The rally ended in front of Diamond where survivors were welcome to share stories of their experiences with sexual, dating, and domestic violence, either themselves or anonymously. The College, like other colleges in this era, struggles with the prevalence of rape culture on campus.
The organizers of TBTN this year were Aidan Sites `22, Esther Jeon `24, and Assitan Thiero `24, along with many other members of both WOCA and FemAlliance. They worked tirelessly all semester to gain funding, plan, and advertise the night.
“It takes a whole semester to prepare for it. There are a lot of logistical things we need to navigate and complete before the actual day of the event,” said Jeon. Purple at Pulver is the act of covering the Pulver Pavilion in purple streamers, posters, and decorations in honor of Take Back the Night and Sexual Violence Awareness Month. Thiero explains, “There’s also tabling, just to make sure people actually pay attention to what’s going on besides the posters, because people just walk by posters without reading them. I think the tabling was really helpful because we were calling out people. It was like, if I knew you, and you were walking around, I was like come here, let me tell you about this event that’s happening, and I think that definitely helped with the attendance and also awareness for the event itself.”
One of the biggest items of stress for the organizers was determining the budget. They had a harder time than expected procuring money from different committees and organizations on Colby and ultimately were underfunded, but with the help of Emily Schusterbauer in the Title IX office and SGA, they still managed to get decorations, make T-shirts, print posters, make banners, and provide snacks and water for those attending the narrative readings in Ostrove.
“I think it’s really important for Colby to allow space for this to happen just because we can create awareness for stuff like this. There [are] a lot of bad people in the world, and unfortunately, there are people here that are neighbors with them, that are friends with them, that see them in classes, and they don’t know what happened to those very important people that had the courage to speak at Take Back the Night or even submit their narrative allowing other people to hear those very personal stories, so I think it’s just important to keep that going,” Thiero said.
The event is open to Colby students, staff, and faculty to attend, but very few faculty and staff were in attendance. David Greene attended Take Back the Night the last time the event was fully in person in 2019 but was not able to make it this year. The organizers expressed difficulty in their ability to contact all the faculty and staff, and among those that were contacted, there were varying levels of interest. Sites spoke about the importance of having faculty, staff, and administrative support.
“Students are only here for max, if you take a gap year, five years. It takes so long to make this change, and students are already going through so much, that in order to make this change we need a collective community effort… If change is going to happen, unfortunately it’s going to be slow. But it needs to happen and it needs to stay. It can’t just be here to appease the students that are angry right now because we’re all going to graduate in a few years anyway. And that requires allyship from every member of the community.”
The Title IX process at this school has two avenues: the formal and informal resolution processes. The formal process involves hiring investigators to piece together all the available evidence and talk to the survivor and the accused before making a recommendation. The informal process involves coming to an unofficial agreement between the survivor and their perpetrator about conduct and contact that is supposed to be held up by the school. However, as explained by Jeon, the process needs to change.
“The Title IX process is disproportionately reliant on the emotional, mental, and physical labor of the survivor. It is so hard to get the accommodations you need. That’s why a lot of survivors don’t go through it or decide to pursue an informal resolution. They are already overwhelmed with the trauma and they cannot afford going through such an exhausting process If they do want to undergo the formal process, it is very likely their experience will be invalidated on a jurisdictional level. They have to have a lot of evidence to defend their case, but the nature of sexual assault is that it happens in private, and for the most part… you don’t have proof. They say that the Title IX process is neutral. But in reality, it is a process where the survivor is wrong until [proven] right and the perpetrator is right until [proven] wrong. I hope it improves, because survivors deserve to feel safe in every space on this campus.”
Hosting Take Back the Night is one of the first steps Colby can take to make this campus safer for survivors. However, it cannot stop there. “The purpose of Take Back the Night is to create a space for survivors to reclaim their narrative and to foster a supportive community, but in no way are we saying that this is the solution to sexual violence on this campus, because it absolutely isn’t,” says Jeon.
The culture surrounding the issue, the rape culture, needs to be addressed. While the students are an important part in that shift, the support of faculty, staff, and administration in this cultural paradigm is crucial in setting the tone of a space that believes survivors and takes accusations of assault seriously. As Jeon explains, “[The first thing] we need to change is the culture of believing survivors. Believe survivors when they share their narratives the first time. Don’t ask for the details. Don’t ask questions. … It takes a lot, a lot, to share that kind of trauma.”
~ Mahika Gupta `23