“Take Back the Night” highlights survivors’ experiences

Student organizations work to create a safe space.

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photo credit: instagram.com/muhlenbergcollege. Survivors telling their stories as spectators listen.

On Apr. 6, a “Take Back the Night” event was held on the East Chapel Lawn. This gathering was meant to serve as a dialogue for survivors of sexual violence to share their experience in front of a group of understanding individuals. Several students came forward and shared either through personal spoken statements or written testimonies that were read by a non-student.

The event was primarily organized by staff advisor to the advocacy group Voices of Strength (VOS) and Associate Director of Prevention Education Jules Purnell and intern at the office of prevention education Liora Finkel ‘22. They worked in conjunction with the Crime Victim Council of the Lehigh Valley to facilitate the evening.

Finkel reflected on the impact of the event saying, “Hearing other people’s testimonies (including those read by a proxy) is incredibly validating. There is a special kind of solidarity amongst survivors of sexual harm… Of course, in an ideal world no sexual harm should ever happen, but since it is such a deeply embedded part of our society, having a space to publicly share our truths feels cathartic.”

” Hearing other people’s testimonies (including those read by a proxy) is incredibly validating. There is a special kind of solidarity amongst survivors of sexual harm”

Muhlenberg is not the first institution to hold a “Take Back the Night” event. Rather, this has been an ongoing occurrence dating back several decades. Purnell stated, “[In] the 1960s-70s, the so-called second wave of feminism was deeply concerned with sexual violence against women as a major social ill, just as modern feminists are today… The original intent [of the event] was to stand up to sexual violence by proclaiming that women and other minoritized people should not feel intimidated to be out after dark, that no one should be blamed for being victimized simply being where they weren’t ‘supposed’ to be.” 

Thus, “Take Back the Night” was created. Muhlenberg has held this occasion at least two other times, with The Weekly finding evidence for a “Take Back the Night” event in 2012 and 2004. 

Now, while the overarching message of “Take Back the Night” has shifted, its foundational principles remain the same. Purnell outlined Muhlenberg’s main reasoning behind hosting the discussion saying, “The primary purpose is to offer a space for survivors of sexual violence to be able to speak freely about their experiences without fear of retribution or even being reported to the College or police.”

“The primary purpose is to offer a space for survivors of sexual violence to be able to speak freely about their experiences without fear of retribution or even being reported to the College or police.”

Due to its subject matter, the night inherently has the potential to become a triggering environment for some. Purnell addressed these concerns and stated what VOS and their office did to combat them. “[Finkel] and I took great care to make sure there was an ample content warning at the beginning of the event, and we met with each speaker to help them decide how to craft their statement. We encouraged each speaker to speak their truth, but to avoid using graphic details so as not to retraumatize those in attendance. We also had members of Counseling Services and Religious and Spiritual Life staff on hand in case anyone at the event was in need of additional support, as well as having both the Egner Chapel and Moyer 101 open as more private spaces students could access to decompress,” said Purnell.

Student speakers and attendees seemed to have had positive reactions to the measures in place. Charlotte McKay ‘24 was a speaker at the event. McKay gave her thoughts stating, “I felt very welcomed and empowered. I was surrounded by people, students and faculty, who were there to uplift and support me and others. I was incredibly nervous to speak because I was going to be sharing a very traumatic experience with a good amount of people, but I was met with kind eyes and supportive arms.”

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