On Thursday night, members of the Columbia/Barnard community gathered at the Barnard gates to participate in Take Back the Night, an annual demonstration against sexual violence. Zachary Hendrickson was humbled to march along as an ally.
“With rage we march, and with strength we speak.”
This year’s rally started off a little later than intended, due to the suspicious package incident yesterday. However, nothing would deter the demonstrators from making their voices heard. The rally kicked off with a moving address by Maya Nair Noonan, BC ’13. Noonan called upon the decision made by Take Back the Night in recent years to be gender inclusive as a way of furthering our understanding of sexual assault – who can be targeted and how they are assaulted. This struck a chord with me. As one of only a handful of cisgendered straight males in attendance, my relative position in society was crystallized. The sad reality is that we live in a world where my female friends are disproportionately the targets of sexual violence, and we are socialized in a way that tells young girls that they should fear the night. But as Noonan pointed out, “Sexual violence is not just another issue.” Too often is the issue of sexual violence pigeon holed as just a feminist issue, a woman’s issue, or a queer issue. No. “Sexual violence threatens everyone,” Noonan declared.
She went on to criticize the media’s handling of the Steubenville case and a suggestion made by Fox News that the solution to sexual violence is to give women guns. The real solution, Noonan says, is to deconstruct a culture that paints masculinity as being synonymous with violence and control. In a moment that was particularly powerful for me, Noonan described memories of her being told as a child to only drink things she poured herself, needing to be told that it is often those closest to us that inflict sexual assault, and being raised with a fear and distrust for the world around her. This is not uncommon.
When a stream of activists poured out of Barnard’s gates on Thursday, each person was marching for something different. I stood there with my shiny silver whistle around my neck, knowing that I had never really considered having to use a rape whistle before. And as I wrestled with my emotions toward being an observer/member of this space, suddenly one thing became clear. I was marching not just for the survivors of sexual assault, but for my little cousins, my nieces, and my future children. I marched for a future where no human being is raised to fear the night. As Maya Noonan proclaimed, “We will take back every space through which we move.”
The march was easily one of the most incredible things I’ve witnessed during my short time at Columbia. The solidarity of the students in attendance was representative of one body, one human being. A chant would grow organically from somewhere within the mass before suddenly erupting from the group. Onlookers waved, clapped, took pictures/video, crowded around their high-rise apartment windows, and raised their fists in support.
The rally did not end with the march, however. Afterwards, participants gathered for reflection in LeFrak Gymnasium and awaited the speak out. The organizers of Take Back the Night deserve to be recognized for all the effort they put in to make that environment a truly safe space. Every resource was made available, from peer counselors to crisis specialists. The individuals who shared their anonymous stories demonstrated an unbelievable bravery and a powerful desire to move forward.
Take Back the Night is a time honored tradition whose mission on campus has never been more relevant. Those who participate demonstrate a fire for change that is not often witnessed on campus, and one that will truly change the way you see the world. Here’s to next year: “Take back the day! Take back the night! Take back our bodies! Take up the fight!”