Bright lights glowed in the hands of Take Back the Night participants as they gathered beneath the blue clock of Samuel Phillips Hall that lit up the darkening sky. Donning teal ribbons – the symbol for Sexual Assault Awareness Month – students awaited the start of the event with palpable excitement.
Andover was selected as one of ten schools to participate in Take Back the Night, an event that aims to raise awareness of sexual violence and sexual assault. This is the first time Andover has hosted the Take Back the Night event. Starting in the early 1970s, Take Back the Night helps give a voice to survivors by breaking the silence that often accompanies issues of sexual assault, a topic that is often disregarded in public.
Sofia Tirado, Teaching Fellow in English, played a key role in organizing the event. Working closely with Flavia Vidal and Tasha Hawthorne, Co-Directors of the Brace Center for Gender Studies and Instructors in English, Tirado corresponded with the Take Back the Night Foundation and the other nine schools participating in this year’s event.
“Sexual assault, a lot of times, perpetuates silence on part of the victim. And so what we wanted to do was to shine a light, and to speak out and do readings to kind of break that silence, and to allow the voice of the survivor to speak, a little bit, or at least to just be present… I wanted to show awareness about sexual assault, and I wanted to give a platform and a voice for survivors of sexual assault,” said Tirado.
“I think Take Back the Night’s goal is to sort of say [that] survivors’ experiences matter, and their voices matter, and they need to speak out and allies are here to support them. I think for me it was all about shattering the silence,” she continued.
This year’s event was sponsored by the Brace Center Student and Faculty Advisory Board.
Vidal said, “The person from our board who really took the initiative for being the main point person for the event was Ms. Tirado. So our role, mine and Dr. Hawthorne’s, was to support her and to give her any help that she needed as the whole planning process unfolded from the beginning of Winter Term.”
The event itself consisted of a march from Sam Phil to the Abbot Circle, led by the Blue Key Heads and Drumline. Carrying a banner, the Blue Key Heads shouted chants such as “it’s on us” and “no means no, yes means yes,” in sync with Drumline’s beat.
Upon arriving to the Abbot Circle, students reflected in silence while excerpts of poetry and articles related to sexual assault were read by Brace Student Leaders. Following the candlelight vigil, student a capella groups Azure, Keynotes, and Yorkies, as well as Gospel Choir, performed a combined number to close the event.
“I think other high schools should follow our lead, so to speak, and have these conversations in high school, because sexual assault is an issue that happens in high school, and it’s part of a lot of high school communities so, it’s something that needs to be addressed,” said Tirado.
One of the readings discussed street harassment, an issue relevant not only to the Andover’s campus, but also the town of Andover.
“[Street harassment is] a really big thing on this campus. On Main Street, I get called on the street when I’m walking by cars, and that’s something that we need to talk about. Because I’m new, this is my first year as a teacher, I really needed that information, but it was good, It was good to work with the students, and they all kind of brought different scales and different ideas, so it was very good collaboration,” said Tirado.
Tirado relied on information from students to help her in organizing the event.
As a new teacher on campus this term, Tirado found student input on street harassment helpful and continued to work with students throughout the organization of the event.
“I think that anytime you organize a large event it’s difficult to, especially for me as a new person, it’s difficult to understand where this community is and what they may need or want from an event like this. So in sort of creating our idea of what we’re gonna do in the speeches and readings, I had to really rely on the students to give us information,” said Tirado.
Justice Robinson ’18, a member of Tirado’s subcommittee and the Brace Student Advisory Board, hopes Take Back the Night provokes more conversations surrounding sexual assault and violence across campus.
“I definitely think that the increased level of conversations [on sexual assault], not only in quantity… but also [in] quality… there is, without a doubt, so much more room to do more. We haven’t even scratched the surface in what we discussed and what needs to be done, like learning about sexual health and sexual safety,” said Robinson.
Following the showing of “The Mask You Live In” in the fall and “SLUT: The Play” in the winter, Take Back the Night is the Brace Center’s main event for Spring Term.
Vidal said, “Our hope is really for one more event to bring the community together for open conversation and sort of awareness of this issue to begin with. One of our main agenda items for the Brace Center this year is to continue the conversation that started when the Brace Center last year organized the Secondary School Conference on preventing gender-based violence and sexual assault. So this has been a continuation of the recommendations that came out of that conference, and really our main focus is this year.”