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ND, SMC collaborate to ‘Take Back the Night’

Caitlin Housley and Nicole Toczauer | Friday, April 29, 2011

Members of the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities joined together for the first time Thursday as a “point of light” in the Take Back the Night (TBTN) campaign against sexual violence.

Elizabeth Moriarty, assistant director of the Notre Dame Gender Relations Center  (GRC), and Connie Adams, assistant director of the Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO), said the event is an opportunity for students and faculty to take a stand against all forms of sexual violence.

“The primary aim of the event is to offer a space for survivors of sexual assault to have a voice, to shine their light into the darkness of violence,” Adams said. “It is critical for all members of our community to support those impacted by violence and to have a presence showing our commitment to prevent this violence from happening in our community.”

Take Back the Night (TBTN) began in Philadelphia in 1975 to unite people against abuse, sexual assault and rape. The event spread to thousands of universities and crisis centers around the country.

Moriarty said Notre Dame held the event in years past, but this year the University will co-host TBTN with Saint Mary’s. The Take Back the Night Foundation requested Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s joint event as one of its “10 Points of Light” last fall.

“This is our first year as a ‘point of light,’ but we’ve observed Take Back the Night the past few years,” Moriarty said. “This was simply a great opportunity to be in solidarity with other campuses across the nation.”

Saint Mary’s BAVO, established in April 2010, will co-host TBTN with Notre Dame for the first time this year. Adams said making the event a collaborative effort between Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame was a logical action.

“A strong component of Take Back the Night is solidarity,” she said. “Because the communities of Saint Mary’s College and the University of Notre Dame are deeply intertwined, it is logical and beneficial for us to stand together to support survivors of violence and demonstrate that violence is not one of our community values.”

Moriarty said the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities have been especially affected by sexual assault and abuse.

“Institutionally, we have wounds. There are sides of Notre Dame that aren’t so flattering, but to heal they must be opened,” she said.

The TBTN events began at 7 p.m. with a walk from Lake Marian on Saint Mary’s campus to the Grotto at Notre Dame for a candlelight vigil. Following the vigil, TBTN committee planners led a march around Notre Dame’s campus.

“This is definitely not a silent march,” Saint Mary’s junior and BAVO student worker Cat Cleary said. “We’re going to be loud and visible in order to raise awareness of this issue.”

After the march, the group shared personal stories in a “Speak Out” session to break the silence surrounding violence suffered by members in the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities.

“A lot of the people are survivors or friends of those affected by sexual violence. For some people it’s the first time they tell their stories,” Notre Dame senior Mariah McGrogan said. “It’s an intimate and sacred time.”

Student musical groups Harmonia, Halftime and Bellacapella performed at the closing reception as participants celebrated the event, Moriarty said.

“I think [the event] is important because these crimes are often shrouded in silence,” Moriarty said. “[Victims’] voices are taken away and they don’t know how to speak to anyone, even themselves. It’s an opportunity to give a voice to the silent and know they are not alone.”

The TBTN events allow for different points of entry in the healing process because experiences with sexual assault and rape are varied and personal, Cleary said.

“[Survivors and allies] have different questions, struggles and pains. They might deal with religious questions and might not want to go to the Grotto, so they’ll march,” she said. “Others want that religious healing, making Grotto the ideal place.”

Adams said raising awareness and promoting action to end violence is essential, and the community is responsible for initiating change and supporting survivors.

“While dialogue has increased surrounding the issues of sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking this academic year, these issues have impacted and continue to impact college campuses across the country,” Adams said. “We live in a society where violence is an epidemic.”

Cleary said she believes TBTN will have a lasting impact on both campuses because it unites men and women — allies and survivors — in breaking the silence and creating a community of healing.

 “I want people to know they aren’t alone in their suffering,” Moriarty said. “There are people who have experienced what you have experienced, and even if they haven’t, there are people who want to help you. There are opportunities for healing, and you don’t have to go it alone.”