Supporting survivors

Voices of Strength marched and spoke out for survivors of sexual violence.

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With signs that read, “Believe Survivors” and “Stand Up for Our Right to Be Free From Fear,” students marched and chanted across academic row on the evening of April 15. Take Back the Night is an event that aims to spread awareness of and end sexual violence, and has been held internationally since 1973. For Muhlenberg, it has historically been hosted by the women’s and gender studies department until Prevention Education and Title IX took over a few years ago. 

This year, after a demand to remove faculty involvement, Voices of Strength (VOS) took over the initiative, which notably marks the first time the event has been entirely student-run. VOS intern and organizer of the event, Emily Orlich ‘24 shared, “One of the things people complained about last year was how the staff and faculty sort of took over it and students did not feel completely safe to share their stories, so we wanted that to not occur this year. VOS members are trained to help survivors, but we are also not mandatory reporters (except two who are RAs but at this event their mandatory reporting status was not in place). Most people on the campus who are trained on helping survivors are mandatory reporters and we know that reporting is scary and painful and is not the right choice for everyone, so we wanted to make this a space where you could share without having to choose between reporting or not. We just wanted this to be a safe space for people to share and receive support without having to choose between reporting.”

The first part of Take Back the Night was the march, where participants were given a sheet with anti-sexual violence chants to yell together during their route on academic row. Director of Women’s and Gender Studies and Professor of Psychology Kate Richmond, Ph.D., attended the initial march, echoing the students’ demands for a safe campus. She emphasized the importance of speaking out in this manner, particularly on a college campus: “Take Back the Night events help to raise awareness about sexual assault and violence against women, especially on college campuses. By marching, students are able to challenge rape culture, promote consent and advocate for safer campuses. The take back allows survivors a chance to share their stories and break the silence—an important step in reducing shame and stigma. Together, students foster a sense of solidarity, which is necessary to create meaningful change.” 

After the march wrapped back around to Seegers, attendees gathered inside for a speak-out, where they were provided the space to freely share their experiences with sexual violence. Above all else, the safety of the students was prioritized. With no faculty or mandatory reporting allowed, the event focused on offering a safe space for students to share and listen without fear of being required to take action. On the decision to not have any faculty present during the speak-out, Orlich stated, “Additionally, we acknowledge that while faculty and staff are here to support us, sometimes they can cause harm, so we felt that by having this be a purely student space it would be more comfortable. Additionally, we had two members of the Crime Victim Council who were confidential resources who were there to provide support if people did not want to talk to other students.” 

Students were allowed to share their stories at their own disclosure with simple boundaries in place, like requesting that no one describe their abuser in identifiable detail. Everyone present was encouraged to step out if they needed to do so, and members of the Crime Victim Council present had a plethora of resources readily available. 

Mason Tompkins ‘26 weighed in on his experience attending the event, “This was my first Take Back of The Night and one of my first events as a member of Voices of Strength. Going into this event, I have to say that I underprepared myself for the impact that this was going to have on me. I knew many of the people in attendance and considered a lot of them my friends. Hearing their stories and struggle to tell them was heartbreaking. With that being said, I am incredibly glad we put on the event, and I’m even more glad I was there to support not only my friends but victims of violence on college campuses across America.”

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