Take Back the Night is known as a deep and intense evening of empowerment. From students speaking of their survivorship, to the fierce energy flowing during the march, to the grieving moments of silence held during the vigil, there are countless feelings that flood through any participant. Hearing each survivor’s story is as painful as sprinkling salt into a wound…but yet it is a healing experience for everyone within the space. The stories of survivorship and journeys were ways that helped people in the audience come to terms with their own experiences. People were able to put into words their traumatic and life-changing encounters. They also embodied different experiences and different channels of sexual assault. Through each story, we believe, the reality that these actions happen on a daily basis really came into fruition for a lot of members of the audience. Allison Hall becomes a momentary space of safety, where anyone speaking and listening to these unbelievable experiences is brave. Six students courageously shared their experiences, leaving everyone in the room with aching hearts and needing more than one tissue. This Take Back the Night is placed in stark contrast to two years ago. While the 2014 Take Back the Night was well attended, had articulate student speakers, and an engaging keynote speech, something was missing. Both the attendants and the coordinators of Take Back the Night were going through the motions like automatons. The posters were flawless, the Hall was full, and everyone chanted at the top of their lungs — but the evening lacked soul. We were unable to bring it back to the individual experience and ground the evening into lived realities. This produced an unintentional lack of authenticity and the space did not feel nearly as intimate or as safe as it could have.
So how and why was this Take Back the Night so much more meaningful?
We made survivorship more visible
In past years, we recognized survivors during Take Back the Night, but they were invisible. Kelly Wilt’s soft and welcoming demeanor comforts survivors and they thus felt encouraged and empowered in sharing their stories with the larger community. As each of the six speakers shared their truths, members of the audience were moved to their cores. While there were many survivors in the room that did not share their story, having six students bring their experiences to light grounds the evening into reality. Additionally, the room was thoughtfully decorated with beautiful survivor love letters. Each word in the letters were written with sincerity and love. The beauty and strength of survivorship was literally written on the walls.
The power of spoken word channeled positivity
After having our student speakers tell their stories, the energy in the room was rightfully heavy. Our keynote speaker, spoken word poet and scholar Crystal Leigh Endsley, followed the student speakers and carried with her a light and energy that revived everyone in the room. Her radical approach to articulating love caused tremors of excitement within the audience. Tears dried and eyes were wide with hope. She inspired each person in the room to raise their arms in solidarity, thus empowering one another and themselves. She took the gravity of student stories and produced a sense of hope that carried the community all the way to Old West during the march. Not only did students chant at the top of their lungs, but there was meaning and sincerity behind their chants.
We did not just have coordinators – we had a collective
Here in Landis we are an organized group, but in an alternative way. As we coordinated the evening, we did not exactly have designated roles for specific folks. Rather, through word of mouth we gathered interest from the community. We had students offer their unique talents-whether it was through music, poetry, or mapping out where the march would take place…the job was not left up to just a few students. Rather, students from all parts of the community came together and helped in their very unique ways. Coordination was creative and definitely not the typical linear process. When the coordinators became a collective, it made it easier to infuse the atmosphere of the evening with a more community-oriented approach. Instead of seamlessly going through the motions, we all checked in with one another and even when mistakes happened, we got through them and laughed. We also built a small support system for one another during the evening as well. When one of us cried, you can bet that someone was there with a tissue and a cookie. Going beyond simply coordination and getting to a level of care for all of those creating the event produced layers of meaning unparalleled to years past.
Written by Danielle Melnick, ’17 & Taylor Cheyenne Bailey, ‘18