With #metoo and #Ibelieveyou circulating through social media feeds and news digest, Eastern Mennonite University’s Nov. 7-10 Take Back the Night events focused the community on reflection, listening and frank discussion about issues of sexual violence.
“We wanted to hear from outside the community how this abuse is manifested and focus on how we can better support those who have experienced it,” said senior Katrina Poplett, who led the program planning for the second year with senior Jonatan Moser.
In an opening event focused on intersectionality, representatives from five campus groups — Black Student Union, Latino Student Alliance, the International Student Organization, Safe Space and Third Culture Kids Student Fellowship — were invited to share “stories and statistics about how sexual assault affected that particular group,” said Poplett. “It was powerful and personal and we closed with a candlelight vigil as a witnessing.”
Take Back the Night events are held around the United States and around the world. The first march was held in 1975, commemorating the death of a woman who was murdered while walking home alone at night in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
EMU has a long tradition of hosting the annual program, according to Professor Deanna Durham, faculty advisor to the planning committee.
TBTN hosted several events around campus, including a Wednesday chapel that involved the sharing of stories and poetry.
About 20 participants in the men’s only discussion Wednesday evening “took the conversation to some really interesting and insightful places,” said Ben Rush, who co-hosted “How Language Legitimizes: A Second Look At What We Don’t Think of Twice” with Joseph Mumaw and Professor Tim Seidel. “Our goals were to take the conversation away from the overt, symptomatic examples of sexual violence and point it towards a conversation about the way subtle things embedded in language and societal assumptions contribute to the problem.” [Read Ben’s blog post about leading this event.]
A Thursday coffee house offered space for expressive arts and sharing, followed by a session with the Inside Out playback theater group. Sarah Regan and Ana Hunter-Nickels, representatives of the Social Work is People (SWIP) club, were the hosts.
Friday’s chapel, planned by the EMU Counseling Center, featured Sabrina Dorman, executive director of the local anti-sex trafficking organization New Creation, Inc. This was followed by a walk-through reflective exhibit in the Campus Center.
Eastern Mennonite Seminary also hosted a Tuesday chapel service to engage with themes of #metoo and #Ibelieve you.
This year’s TBTN events were in the second year of a three-year thematic exploration of sexual violence at the micro-, meso- and macro levels, Poplett and Moser said.
“Last year was on a micro-level, focused on what was going on here on campus, opening a space for conversations we didn’t see happening,” Poplett said. “This year, we’re focusing on the meso-level, with organizations and community, and next year will be more of a macro level.”
The leaders situated TBTN events within recent national events, including U.S. Department of Education decisions related to Title IX.
At all events, counseling center staff were present and other resources were available if students or community members were in need of support.
Many of the students involved in Take Back the Night come to their volunteer work by learning more about systemic issues in their coursework and through clubs such as SWIP or Peace Fellowship. Moser, a double major in social work and history, says a combination of factors raised his awareness as a first-year student.
“I had just learned about sexual violence and sexism and how often it happened and I was really horrified by that,” Moser said. “Getting involved in Take Back the Night has been a way to give back.”
Poplett, a peacebuilding and development major who is also in the accelerated MA in restorative justice program, began attending TBTN events her first year on campus and became a leader as a sophomore.
“I think a lot of my passion lies in giving voice to people whose stories aren’t normally told,” she said.