Take Back The Night creates conversation on campus

On Thursday, April 28, over 200 Colby students carrying plastic candles and wearing T-shirts reading “Take Back The Night” sat in front of Miller steps. For the following two hours, members of the Colby community listened in support of fourteen of their peers, who shared narratives of their own experiences and those of anonymous contributors with sexual violence or assault. The event, called “Take Back the Night,” was hosted by Colby’s Feminist Alliance and in conjunction with the larger, international nonprofit of the same name. The organization has been in operation since the 1970s and advocates for the end of sexual, domestic, and relationship violence in all forms.

Thursday’s event sought to increase awareness specifically of sexual violence, as that is one of the most prevalent issues on college campuses. Nationally, one in five undergraduate women experience sexual violence while in college, as well as one in six men. Both men and women shared narratives at the event, highlighting that although sexual assault is typically framed as a women’s issue, the problem affects all genders.

This year, Feminist Alliance Co-Presidents Abby Snyder ’18 and Sierra Fuller ’18 organized Take Back the Night with several goals in mind. The first was geared toward a cultural shift regarding sexual violence on the College’s campus.

“Take Back the Night is about people sharing. Part of that is awareness,” Snyder said. “You may think, ‘Oh this doesn’t happen at Colby,’ because your friends never told you this happened to them. It’s part of helping people understand that this is still a pervasive problem.” To increase awareness on campus, Fuller and Snyder reached out to the captains of each sports team on campus to personally invite them and their teammates to the event. “Going with a team makes it a group experience and is one way to draw people who might normally come,” Fuller said. She cited the importance of fostering a culture where sexual violence is recognized, which is a key step in decreasing sexual violence on campus. Next year, the Feminist Alliance hopes to reach out to even more groups on campus to encourage them to attend together.

Additionally, Fuller and Snyder hope that the event will play a role in altering the campus’s mindset around the reporting process. “It’s really important for students to see the guilt that goes through the minds of victims and how hard it is to come forward. Hopefully, people understand how problematic it is to accuse someone of falsely reporting an incident on campus,” Fuller said.

Although the event was primarily planned and hosted by the Feminist Alliance, many members of the Colby, and even the broader Waterville community, were involved. Narrative submissions were open to all campus members. President of the College David A. Greene spoke at the start of the event, and counselors were available during and after the event to support both the audience and the presenters. Snyder and Fuller specifically expressed gratitude to Director of Colby’s Gender and Sexual Diversity Program Emily Schustebauer, the who was instrumental in organizing the night. The event was funded by the Student Government Association, and in the days after, many students sported the event’s purple t-shirts. Additionally, all money earned from selling T-shirts was donated to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

Some critiques to the event include the possibility that the event creates an expectation for victims of sexual assault to share their stories, as well as the risk that members of the audience could be traumatized or re-traumatized. Snyder spoke to the delicacy of the narrative aspect of the event: “As a culture, we really value storytelling. However, this means that we don’t just value issues at large. We have to have a personal connection to it.”

In addition to the planned reading of the narratives, at the end of the event, after all submitted narratives had been read, members of the audience were invited to share their own stories of sexual violence.

Snyder ’18 added, “Even though we have some larger goals with the event in terms of changing Colby’s culture, the most important aspect is that people are able to take back their own narratives and have agency over their stories.”