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Campus unites to reclaim the night

Rebecca O'Neil | Friday, April 26, 2013


The chant “Join together. Free our lives. We will not be victimized.” echoed through campus as students from Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame united to take a public stand against sexual violence Thursday night. 

The two schools collaborated in this year’s Take Back the Night event, which featured a candlelight vigil at the Grotto, a march through Notre Dame’s campus and a Speak Out with dinner in the Hospitality Room of South Dining Hall.

The event was co-sponsored by the Gender Relations Center (GRC) at the University and the Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) at the College.
Christine Caron Gebhart, director of the GRC, said Take Back the Night’s theme reflects the center’s overarching purpose. 

“Our goal is to help students think about and form healthy and safe relationships where we as a community take care of ourselves and others because that is what we are called to do by God,” Gebhart said. “For some, this is part of the process of healing and reclaiming their voice after an event that has taken their power.”

Gebhart said each part of the event was designed with a specific purpose. The prayer service serves as time to heal, she said. The march was a time to publicly eliminate taboos associated with sexual assault and the dinner gave people an opportunity to share their stories and have supporters listen, she said.

Caron Gebhart said the dinner is part of the event because of how it brings people together and provides both comfort and healing.

“Then we break bread together because that’s what we do as a community because food can be comforting, it could be a way to gather but most importantly a way to heal,” Gebhart said. 

She said the structure of Take Back the Night reflects a Sunday Mass.
“We gather together, we break bread, we become stronger and go forth in the world and make changes so that peoples’ dignity is preserved and protected, especially the most vulnerable,” Caron Gebhart said.

Nicole Sganga, a sophomore fire starter who attended the dinner and speak out, said the event means something different to everyone and a great deal to those who are victims of sexual violence.

“It’s personal,” Sganga said. “I feel like it means something different for everyone. Holding an event like this each year shows that we are trying to address topics like this, which do happen on our campus. I have friends who look forward to this each year because for them, it’s a way to continue the healing process.”

Gebhart said the event also cultivates a strong sense of unity and shared responsibility.

“It’s also a time for us to stand together in solidarity-to break the silence that often occurs around issues of sexual violence and assault,” Caron Gebhart said. “It’s that neat thing when we stand in solidarity and realize that this support extends beyond our campus, our community to the world. We do it here on campus because students who have been impacted and to remind us that we as a community, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s have to stand against this.Take Back the Night doesn’t just appeal to a particular demographic, it appeals to humanity, she said.

“Some people think that sexual violence in assault is a women’s issue, but men can be and are assaulted,” Gebhart said. “But most importantly, when sexual assault occurs, it’s violence against a community. When a piece of the community is hurt, or broken or wounded then that hurts all of us.”

The solidarity extends past gender, sexual orientation and social standing, Gebhart said, emphasizing the number of men who attended the event.

“I think the presence of the men is incredibly important because this impacts their lives: some directly and some indirectly but most importantly, what it really says to us is that this is our issue, not a men’s or a women’s, not a gay, not a straight, it’s about humanity,” she said.

Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame were not the only community participating in Take Back the Night. The South Bend community and IUSB also held Take Back the Night events on Thursday. 

Take Back the Night is relevant in both a literal and figurative sense, Gebhart said. 

“Often victims will talk about this shadow, which is why you have groups like Out of the Shadows, but also you know, under the veil of night its easy to do violence to one another because we can dehumanize one another,” she said. “It’s both literal, in the sense that it is when sexual violence occurs, but symbolic in the sense that that is what happens to people who experience this. We’re going to be a light for them. 

“As we walk around campus, we’re not competing with other events. We are all standing together, saying we need to be a part of this night, this day and in this way people will speak ou”. We don’t just need to take back this night, we need to take back every night and every day.”