Candles glowed in the hands of students, faculty, and other members of the Andover community, illuminating the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall as students recited quotes on sexual assault. Last Thursday, April 19, the Andover community gathered for Take Back the Night, which focused on eradicating all forms of sexual and gender-based violence.
Led by Blue Key Heads and Drumline, students marched from Samuel Phillips Hall to Old Abbot Campus. Once students reached Abbot Circle, participants formed a ring and listened to student musical groups Azure, Keynotes, The Yorkies, and Gospel Choir perform “Quiet” by MILCK.
According to its website, Take Back the Night is a national charitable foundation that works to end all forms of sexual violence. The earliest Take Back the Night events were held in Belgium and England in the 1960s. Today, Take Back the Night events have been documented in 36 countries and have reached over 30 million people.
The main goals of of the Take Back the Night marches are to create a dialogue about sexual assault and to raise awareness and support for survivors of the crime, according to Larson Tolo ’18, a member of the Brace Center for Gender Studies’ student advisory board and a coordinator of the event.
“I think that there are things that people don’t like talking about very often — they’re definitely kind of the elephant in the room. But I think that this kind of puts them out in the open and also shows how many people support standing up against these issues and standing for what we think, in this community, what is right,” said Tolo.
Now in its third year at Andover, Take Back the Night gave survivors a platform to share their stories.
“Sexual violence, sexual harassment, and gender based violence play a part in all of our lives whether we know it or not… Being out here for the people who don’t feel safe for themselves, who don’t feel like this is something they can do because of what people have done to them in the past [is important],” said Emma Slibeck ’20, another coordinator on the Brace student advisory board.
Katherine Heffernan, Fellow in English and member of the Brace Center’s faculty advisory board, explained that part of the event’s intent was to shift public consciousness surrounding sexual assault from the victim to the perpetrator, and introducing spaces for victims to feel safe as well as ensuring justice from offenders.
Heffernan said, “The intent is to slow down and think about how… we can shift narratives to center on perpetrators of sexual assault, perpetrators of rape culture, and do so in a way that lets us to create space to honor the lives of people who have been [affected] by those perpetrators and by rape culture.”
Eliot Min ’19, a member of performing groups Keynotes and The Yorkies, said, “It was really powerful. I think we were all there to communicate to ourselves and each other the shared message that we stand together against sexual assault. I think the song really embodied the spirit… We will definitely be performing at Take Back the Night next year.”
At the event, Blue Key Heads led chants and read quotes. Blue Key Head Kelly McCarthy ’19 was touched to see the number of students supporting the event.
“They had us take a second multiple times to look around at the people who were here with us, and they said, ‘These are your allies; these are the people who can be here for you.’ I think that was really powerful, and I think it’s really cool to know so many people doing so many different things on this campus… all willing to be together for this cause,” said McCarthy.
Thania Martinez ’21 echoed McCarthy’s sentiment of the power of community.
“As the speaker told us to look around at all the lights and how many people were there to support you, it just brought tears to my eyes. I looked down at my candle and realized how each candle represents a person who has survived, what they’ve gone through, and just holding that in my hands made me feel really empowered and empathetic,” said Martinez.
In years to come, Slibeck would appreciate seeing even more Andover community members at the event.
“In the future I’d love to see more people… Fighting against sexual violence is something that’s for all of us, not just a survivor or someone who’s best friend is a survivor. It’s for everyone, and I think that’s the mentality we all need to adapt. This is everyone’s fight, and this is something that really matters, and we should be fighting for this,” said Slibeck.