On Thursday, April 4, students and faculty alike gathered in DPC to share their experiences with something many men and women face in their lifetimes: sexual assault. The event was promoted as a safe place to find support and sympathy. The evening was concluded by a candlelit march around the campus to emphasize the purpose as well as the title of the event: Take Back The Night.
According to Junior and SMART member Cameron Kelley, Take Back the Night was started in 1976 and was started with “Second wave feminist movements that were interested in conveying a sense of reclamation for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence” and St. Mary’s College of Maryland has been doing Take Back the Night for at least five years now.
The evening started with the coordinator of the event, Kelly Muldoon, Staff Therapist and Sexual Assault advocate, speaking about the purpose of the evening: Listening to the stories told by survivors of sexual assault. Attendees were also informed of the most important aspect of the evening: Remembering that the victim is never the one at fault. The keynote speaker of the evening was Assistant Professor of Theater, Film, and Media Studies and resident scenographer Leah Mazur. Mazur read a lovely, moving short story about a young woman reporting a sexual assault.
When asked about why she decided to share the experience in this way, Mazur responded with, “I think that issues dealing with sexual assault and the trauma that results from those assaults is always something I’ve been super passionate about.” What was most moving and striking about the piece was the repetition of the phrase “What do you need, Leah?” And the narrator being too anxious to answer. This story brought to light the absolute fear and embarrassment a person feels when opening up about sexual assault. Mazur went on to say “You kind of grapple with being a statistic, especially this far into the recovery process dealing with trauma and whatnot. I know it helped me heal and I want to share that with other people and acknowledge the work that goes into recovery.”
After Mazur, there was a lovely performance of the King Princess song “1950” by The Nightingale A cappella group (TNA), which was solemn yet still optimistic and hopeful, fitting for Take Back the Night. After the closing remarks by a member of SMART, the floor was opened up for anyone who wished to speak and share their own experiences.
What was shared specifically will remain confidential, as it was made clear that what was said at the event would stay there, but what should be said is that nearly everyone in attendance felt safe enough to share some kind of experience. Freshman Camilla Barillas noted that, “It was empowering and I was humbled by the other people that were there that shared their experiences and people who had probably never even said anything about it before I just wanted to be a part of that.” When asked about her feelings after she shared her story, she said, “After I spoke, I felt very content. I usually just feel anger around these situations but I didn’t feel angry and that was one of the first times that I can just take in other people’s feel experiences and just feel strength with other people. ”
After survivors spoke, they were given a round of applause and everyone was thanked for sharing their stories. The atmosphere in DPC during the open mic portion of the evening was one of community and strength. While there were tears shed, both by people and members of the audience, it was also very clear that every person in the room was in support of the people around them. Mazur described the open mic portion as, “Beautiful to see people support others. It’s one of the most amazing things, being a human and watching other fellow humans support one other especially through something like this. It’s one of great sadness, it’s also one of triumph, and some people were doing it for the first time and that’s one of the most triumphant moments you’ll ever have.”
When everybody who wished to speak had done so, each person in attendance was given a small plastic LED candle and marched around St. Mary’s Campus. Survivors and allies march in the hope that they no longer need to fear going out at night, that sexual assault will merely be a fear of the past. As Kelley states, “There’s a lot of stigma surrounding the issues of sexual assault and domestic violence, and there are things that people really don’t want to talk about- they’re uncomfortable, they’re messy, they’re violent, and very few people feel comfortable discussing openly and frequently their experiences.” When asked about what she thought about Take Back the Night and why events like it are important for you people who have experienced sexual violence, Kelley responded, “I think Take Back the Night benefits the people who might not speak out and it’s been really great to see other people feel brave enough to speak out and I think it helps other survivors to know that they’re not alone in these issues and to feel like they’re not isolated.”