Meeting in front of Samuel Phillips Hall, two lines of students began marching down to the Abbot campus, chanting and holding banners that opposed gender-based violence, with the Brace Board members leading the chants. A performance of “Skyscraper” by Demi Levato marked the beginning of the event: “Take Back the Night.”
A crowd of Andover students stood around Abbot Circle on Friday evening, holding candles, while listening to poetry and songs and watching interpretive dance performances. Brace board members stood in a circle on the grass, reading aloud a list containing the names of those impacted by gender based violence, which was followed by a moment of silence to acknowledge them.
Take Back the Night is an annual event organized by members of the Brace Center for Gender Studies board with the goal of spreading awareness about sexual harassment and gender-based violence, as well as to commemorate and support survivors. Evalyn Lee ’23, a member of the Take Back the Night planning committee, revealed the committee’s intention and ideas behind the event.
“It’s mainly an acknowledgment and a visible way of bringing […] community together. Like I said earlier, sexual assault is a topic that isn’t discussed. And I think by having this event where we all come out, march, and stand together, it shows that we care about these issues in our community, care for these victims,” Lee explained.
During the event, the Brace Advisory Board led chants to express resistance against gender-based violence. While some parts of the affirmations were passed down from previous years as a tradition, the current Take Back the Night planning committee also came up with and included new slogans of their own. Emiliano Caceres Manzano ’22, Brace Board member, described the planning process as thoughtful and meaningful.
“For us it was a matter of thinking ‘What do we want survivors to hear?’ and ‘What do we want to put out into the world to combat anyone who doesn’t believe, anyone who’s perpetuating this violence?’ ‘What kind of energy can we put out into the world?’ I do want to give credit, one of the affirmations was originally ‘We stand with you,’ and I believe it was [Violet Enes ’21] who changed it to ‘We stand with you even when your institutions don’t.’ And I think that that was very, very powerful and she ad-libbed that in the moment,” said Caceres Manzano.
According to Caceres Manzano, planning for the event was challenging, given that last year’s Take Back the Night was completely virtual and this year’s event must follow Andover community Covid-19 guidelines. In addition to these challenges, an unexpected wind advisory was emailed to the Andover community that morning, causing a sudden change of plans for the “Take Back the Night” committee.
“Originally, our plans had been heavily reliant on tents, the simultaneous marches going on, that were going to rotate through different tents, then they were going to culminate in two separate vigils. But, because of the tents closing, at 10:00 a.m., we sat down and re-planned the entire thing,” said Caceres Manzano.
He continued, “My [biggest] concern was [whether or not] the event was going to work, that people were going to know where they supposed to be, that people got places at the same time, and that we would be able to implement all these last minute changes, because we had been planning it for four months then we had to restructure it,” said Caceres Manzano.
Student attendees expressed their admiration for the event. An attendee of Take Back the Night Emily Mae Murtha ’22 described the importance of events that show group support for survivors of gender based violence.
“I think the gathering of the Andover community in one space just to shed light on this issue is really important. Because, if there’s no reciprocity in mutual passion and care about topics such as this, it won’t be brought up in discussions and students won’t be able to engage in this subject more and in general it could be often overlooked,” said Murtha.
She continued, “Having these events frequently on campus and engaging in discussion makes students think and make connections to topics such as gender based violence and watch out for it more in times where it’s relevant.”
Similarly, Zadia Rutty-Turner ’23, a first time attendee, saw the event as necessary to spread awareness of gender-based violence and letting students recognize that the Andover community is always there to support.
“Seeing everybody standing in that circle, everyone’s holding their little light up candles out, very uniting, which is something that I think the community really needs… I think greater awareness is always something that we know we want to focus on. Other than awareness, unity, as I said, or just a sense of reality, I think. Because sexual assault or just some of the topics covered gender-based violence, so it’s covered sometimes as like to other people, it’s not something that happens to people. It’s always somebody else, I think it brought the greater sense of like, this happens to people, this is something that you should actively be aware of,” said Rutty-Turner.
While Flavia Vidal, Director of the Brace Center for Gender Studies, appreciates the outreach of the event, she believes that the event could become even more influential in the future and hopes that all members of the Andover community will be present to participate.
“Just more people can come, this should be a full community event. I think it is time for our students and our adults who did not participate, and I know for a fact that there are people who wanted to participate and couldn’t, and I completely understand that. But I also know that there are people who made other choices. I think that it speaks to the need for this to grow even more and to be something that people really embrace, every single one of our students, not just the 300 and something that have been there,” said Vidal.