Take Back the Night (TBTN) is an event that serves to cultivate safe communities that are supportive of sexual assault survivors and enhances awareness about sexual assault and other forms of interpersonal violence. We live in a culture that promotes sexual violence, blames and/or fails to support sexual assault survivors, and encourages silence on these issues. Acts of sexual and domestic violence happen everywhere, and UMBC is no exception. Thus, we wanted our own community to be a place where we take a clear stand against violence and where we support the members of our community who are dealing with these issues. Together with University Health Services and the Office of Greek Life, the Women’s Center hosted this amazing event.
My role in this project began in fall 2012 as a grant writing intern with the Women’s Center. As a part of my internship, I applied for a UMBC Breaking Ground grant for TBTN. Through writing that grant, I became very passionate about this project and invested in seeing it through. Thankfully, we were awarded the grant and then the real planning began.
The planning stage was comprehensive involving everything from designing the march route, selecting advertisements and t-shirt designs, to facilitating rally sign making, and discussing the role of men in the march. Having a team of passionate people is a part of what made this event fun to be a part of, and it certainly eased the stress of the planning stage.
After months of planning, the big day finally arrived. However, it was raining. But we didn’t let that stop us. We moved the event into the Commons Sports Zone, a rain location we had already reserved just in case. Over 250 people came out to show their support, and many survivors shared their stories. While many of the survivors had been asked beforehand to speak, many unexpected others were inspired to speak through the strength shown by their peers. People were visibly affected by the survivors’ stories. People did not realize that people they know and care about, classmates, people they pass by daily have experienced sexual assault. Hearing their stories at the Speak Out made this issue tangible and even more powerful. After the Speak Out, we marched in solidarity to take a stand against sexual and interpersonal violence. We marched to break the silence and to speak out about myths associated with rape such as that what girl wears or when she walks the street matters. I was in charge of the bullhorn, making me the designated leader of the march. It was not something I had ever imagined myself doing but it was a fantastic experience. Seeing those tons of people marching and chanting for this cause was so inspiring, and I was honored to have been entrusted with that task as well as to have been a part of making TBTN happen.
In planning this event, collaborations were key to making it successful and we hope to expand those partnerships next year. One of those partnerships involved making TBTN a part of Greek Week which was definitely instrumental to the support and great turnout we received. Offering opportunities for people to make rally signs in the Center was great advertisement and it really added to the atmosphere of the march. Our route was handicap accessible and students in wheelchairs were easily able to participate in the march. Thankfully, most things went according to plan and the rain stopped just in time for us to march outside. In the future, we plan on having a bigger rain location as the one we used was packed and we expect and even bigger turnout next year. Marching after the Speak Out also made a difference in how the event was received as it gave people a reason to march after hearing personal stories of sexual violence. We also hope that by having the event earlier in April, that it will get dark a little sooner. Marching and chanting in the daylight was a little awkward for some.
All in all, I thought this event was amazing and we received incredible feedback. I think TBTN made an impact on many people and that it did indeed help to raise awareness and shatter the silence about sexual and interpersonal violence. I look forward to seeing how this event will grow and change in the future as TBTN will absolutely be an annual event.