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Students address sexual violence at Take Back the Night

and | Friday, April 21, 2017

Members of the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross communities gathered Thursday evening to promote campus healing in the areas of sexual assault and relationship violence.

The event, Take Back the Night, started with a kickoff and walkover to Notre Dame from Lake Marion at Saint Mary’s. Participants then gathered in the Great Hall of O’Shaughnessy Hall, where members of the community sat, listened and shared personal stories of sexual assault during the event’s speak out.

Survivors of sexual assault among the community were invited to go up to the front and share their stories, and they were encouraged to share as much or as little as they felt comfortable sharing. Many took the opportunity to gain some sense of healing by sharing their stories of sexual assault, relationship violence, abuse and stalking. Several said it was their first time verbalizing their experience.

Students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary's complete a march throughout the College and University campuses at the Grotto.Emmet Farnan | The Observer
Students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s complete a march throughout the College and University campuses at the Grotto.

Saint Mary’s junior Abigail Spica, who helped organize the event, said everything ran smoothly. Over 130 people attended the speak out, she said.

“Every time I hear the different stories at the speak out, it’s so unique,” Spica said. “I stood at the back of [the group] this year, and it’s incredible when you see a story resonate with someone new and they realize that this is happening in our community.”

Notre Dame junior Cameron Moore said the event helped clear up some misconceptions and attitudes of victim blaming that centered around over-drinking or faulting the victim for not doing more to control the situation.

“I think these kinds of events bring to light what’s really hard for people to talk about,” Moore said. “It brings awareness to the actual severity of the issue.”

Bellacapella, the all-female a capella group at Saint Mary’s, was invited to sing after the speak out, junior “Bella” member Kayse McGough said. The group sang “Rise Up” by Andra Day and “Quiet” by MILCK, she said.

“Both are supportive, uplifting songs,” she said. “It was special to sing after the speak out, to kind of provide some empowering music before they marched across Notre Dame’s campus.”

McGough said the speak out was an eye-opening experience, and singing in front of those who had the courage to share their stories was very powerful.

“When you come to Saint Mary’s, you hear the statistic one in four,” she said. “But you don’t really realize what it means until you’re at an event like this, and what those numbers mean — that that is a whole class at Saint Mary’s, or one of four daughters. I’m glad I could be a part of it, and I’m glad we have Take Back the Night here.”

Notre Dame junior Kaitlyn Keffler said she thinks most students are only made aware of the reality of sexual assault through the “vague, uncomfortable emails” sent out by Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP). She said events like Take Back the Night help in raising awareness, which she hopes will in turn lead to a reduction in sexual assault.

“It’s more common than we think,” Keffler said. “I think that sexual assault is an issue that a lot of people are uncomfortable talking about, but it’s very important and pervasive in our campus life.”

The event ended with a prayer vigil, where Saint Mary’s junior Leann Tulisiak was a cantor. Tulisiak said she decided to attend this year because she wanted to learn ways of supporting fellow students who have been through experiences similar to those of the speakers.

“It was really humbling and inspiring to see these people’s courage,” Tulisiak said. “It inspired me to become more involved with [Belles Against Violence] and go back to Take Back the Night next year.”

In the end, Tulisiak was struck by the feelings of support and comfort from everyone there, she said, and was glad she witnessed the courage of those who chose to speak.

Notre Dame junior Carolina Ochoa said she believes Take Back the Night is a step toward a more comprehensive understanding of the gravity of sexual assault. Other than misconceptions about sexual assault, she said, people joking about sexual assault is also damaging to awareness of the issue.

“Even if it’s harmless, it just makes it okay in some minute way that should not happen,” Ochoa said.

Facing the reality of sexual assault through the uncensored stories of survivors aids in campus healing, Ochoa said.

“It does bring awareness and starts a conversation about sexual assault, which is something that needs to be done,” she said.

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About Kathryn Marshall

Kathryn Marshall, Saint Mary's College '17, is a Biology and Humanistic Studies double major. Follow Kathryn on Twitter @kmarshallSMC

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About Selena Ponio

Selena Ponio is from Dallas, Texas and is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is the Associate News Editor for The Observer. Selena lives in Breen-Phillips hall and is majoring in International Economics with a concentration in Spanish and is minoring in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

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