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Tri-campus to host ‘Take Back the Night’ to raise awareness for sexual assault

and | Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Started in the 1960s, Take Back the Night (TBTN) is an international event and non-profit organization dedicated to ending sexual assault and violence worldwide. This year’s tri-campus TBTN will take place Wednesday from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m., with the goal of spreading awareness of sexual violence within and far beyond the borders of the tri-campus community.

Notre Dame’s Gender Relations Center (GRC) and Saint Mary’s Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) spearheaded the planning of this year’s event along with a large number of co-sponsors. 

Courtesy of Kaitlyn Stankiewicz

BAVO coordinator Liz Coulston explained the history behind Take Back the Night as an international non-profit organization. 

“So it kind of started casually in the [1960s] in Europe when people began protesting that women weren’t able to walk safely down the street by themselves,” Coulston said. “Then this movement continued [with] protests across the country for various things that kind of relate to interpersonal violence. In 2001, the Take Back the Night Foundation was formed, so ever since then events under that umbrella term ‘Take Back the Night’ have been happening internationally.” 

Coulston also described how Take Back the Night became a tri-campus event.

“Take Back the Night at Notre Dame started as a Notre Dame event over a decade ago and then when BAVO’s office started in 2009, we became a co-sponsor of the event, and then kind of quickly became a partner in planning the Take Back the Night event,” she said. “And then, Holy Cross joined us as fellow planners in 2017, making it a full tri-campus planned event.”

The event kicks off at 6:30 p.m. at Lake Marion on Saint Mary’s campus. Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students are then invited to walk over to Notre Dame’s Dahnke Ballroom for a tri-campus “Speak Out,” which starts at 7:30 p.m. 

GRC program coordinator for healthy relationships and community outreach Kaitlyn Stankiewicz said the purpose of the Speak Out is to foster a space where survivors feel safe to speak about their experiences. 

“We’ll start with a Speak Out, which is essentially a space we’re creating in which survivors can come forward to share their stories to let us know what their experience is and they can share as much or as little as they want,” Stankiewicz said. “People who do come forward in person are exempt from having to have this reported to Title IX.”

Stankiewicz said hearing stories from survivors is typically a sobering moment for those in attendance where they can “hear the reality of what’s going on with students in our campus community and stand in solidarity with them.”

After the Speak Out, participants will move into a march around Notre Dame’s campus that starts at Gate E (the student gate) of Notre Dame Stadium at 9:15 p.m. 

TBTN will conclude with a prayer vigil on South Quad at 9:45 p.m. In the case of inclement weather, the vigil will be moved to Dahnke Ballroom. 

According to Coulston, this year she, along with a group of students and Saint Mary’s Campus Ministry staff, planned the event’s non-denominational prayer service so it would be inclusive to students of all faiths.

“Of course we are three Catholic institutions, but we wanted to make sure that people of all faiths felt welcomed and felt supported,” she said.

Senior Meghan McNamara worked with Coulston and other members of BAVO to coordinate the night’s events. She explained why she decided to join the planning committee.

“I got involved in Take Back the Night because my goal in general … is to give people a voice and Speak Out and the march is giving those people their voice,” McNamara said. “So I think it’s just really important that people feel heard and seen.”

In addition, McNamara commented on what she has gained from planning Take Back the Night.

“I learned that people heal at different rates [and] it is not linear,” she said. “Some people need to speak and share their experiences, some people don’t. Some people just need to hear that they’re not alone and that they’re supported.”

In response to a question about the recent release of widely-circulated emails sent by Zahm House residents containing sexually explicit language, Stankiewicz said it’s important not to tolerate jokes that support rape culture. 

“Comments and jokes perpetuate rape culture, which kind of makes people less likely to say or maybe do something if they see something or hear something, and it makes it seem a little bit slightly okay to have a culture where that’s acceptable,” Stankiewicz explained. “Jokes about rape, sexual assault minimize the severity of someone who’s gone through that … People’s lives are changed forever when they have that experience.”

Coulston also emphasized the need to support survivors.

“[Take Back the Night] is always an important event,” Coulston said. “Of course, with the recent release of those emails from Zahm and other public revelations related to that, I think it’s as important — if not more important than ever — to show survivors that we support them and that we believe them.”

Coulston wants students to be aware of how sexual assault and interpersonal violence truly affect the tri-campus.

“I really hope that students walk away with an understanding of how prevalent these issues are in our tri-campus community and the power that they hold to address these issues, not only with our type of bystander intervention with stepping in when you see something, and taking action, but also kind of some of that proactive stuff like showing support for survivors,” she said.

Coulston also wants survivors to feel a sense of community after attending the event.

“Additionally, I really hope that survivors that attend — whether they choose to participate in the Speak Out or not — walk away knowing that they aren’t alone,” Coulston said. “People are around them that share their experiences and understand what they are feeling.”

In addition to TBTN, the GRC holds several other events to promote Sexual Assault Awareness Month, including No Longer Silent: Violence Against People with Disabilities on April 19 and 20 and Denim Day on April 28. 

BAVO is also continuing to plan events through the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, with movie screenings on April 15 and 27 and a self-defense class on April 22.

Stankiewicz said she hopes students are motivated through these events to create a better culture on campus. 

“I hope [TBTN] motivates people to really want to make a change and to be more involved,” Stankiewicz said. “Outside of Take Back the Night, we do have a variety of events … that we do every year so maybe it’ll get people more involved, and it will push for more of a culture change across campus.”

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About Genevieve Coleman

Hailing from the great city of South Bend, Genevieve Coleman is a junior at Saint Mary's majoring in English literature & writing and secondary education with a minor in theatre. She currently serves as Saint Mary's News Editor.

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