Take Back the Night

Take Back the Night

Take Back the Night is an annual campus event that provides a voice against local domestic violence and sexual assault. Taylor Grasdalen attended Thursday’s march and rally.

It would be entirely too easy to call Take Back the Night “moving,” or to call it by any related synonym, with as much stress as there has been this year on the terminology and language and circumstance surrounding issues of “gender-based misconduct and sexual assault.” Rather, I’ve never seen so much feeling; considering this event in the context of this word instead, this noun, seems to make far more sense than any descriptor. That there was feeling suggests a much greater thing.

And indeed, Take Back the Night really is about a greater thing, something big, something loud and important, a group rallying. This is exactly as it’s been for years’ events past, I know, but considering the modern energy of these issues makes that feeling stronger.

Take Back the Night began just before eight, with announcements and introductions. I was immediately regarded as “press” and could not speak to any other marcher or participant. Our key speaker–Morgaine Gooding-Silverwood (CC’14)–began the actual rally itself, by briefly discussing her own experiences and then for some time considering the University’s place in this cause. Her speech really clarified the purpose I’d hoped for this event: she gave more than just statistics, she gave thorough definition to “rape culture.” It’s any form of non-consent, anything without decision. She brought up Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion, where, too, students are not being heard. As she put it, “Rape culture is not some buzzword.” In a year of Town Halls and constant emails, administrators deflecting blame and students becoming restless, her concentration on language here felt incredibly timely.

She went on to name and address President Bollinger then, and his calling these concerns “unfortunate”–these concerns, these matters of sexual assault on campus. Rather, they are not unfortunate, but disgraceful. Calling what has, in turn, been lightly termed “misconduct” as “unfortunate” is incorrect, and it is distancing and insensitive of the administration to step back in this way. A chant later raised by the crowd when marching, “Rape is a felony even with CU ID!” hones this point. For the administration, the issue of sexual assault on campus is yet just one to be promised commitment. That Columbia calls sexual assault not a “crime,” but “misconduct” for the sake of protecting potential criminals is not true commitment, it’s disgraceful.

The march itself was some two hours long, loud and winding through Morningside Heights. I was not allowed to march within the group necessarily, but to watch the bold mass felt regardless a privilege. A crowd composed most prominently of individuals identifying female, there were many men, too, even amongst the volunteers (several of whom later told me that they were involved with the Men’s Peer Education group on campus)–all encircled by a force of NYPD as we crossed streets, crossed College Walk. Though I might pick out individual comments I heard from the crowd (if only to include one man’s rhetorical “Why do I feel like a dirtbag?”), the group’s continuous, agitated chanting was of course louder.

This, I think, is where the event comes together. Whether watching the crowd or part of it, it is so clearly a mass of people saying something. Illuminated by the NYPD cars at front and back of the marchers, the lights flashing seemed to compose and complete the group, already one in their chants. This is the most memorable picture.

The march ended where it began, at Barnard, and participants ended up in the Diana Center for coffee and bagels. I met the coordinator of our Take Back the Night event here at Columbia, Zelda Wanstok (BC’15), and asked whether the recent months’ attention to heightened concerns of misconduct on campus had at all informed this year’s Night; she told me no, not really, which I cannot entirely understand, however relevant their chosen speaker’s comments had been. I learned, too, that this year’s Take Back the Night crowd was in no way significantly larger than those in previous years. It came time for the “speakout” portion of the evening, then, where survivors would share their stories; as a “mandatory reporter,” I did not feel comfortable attending.  I think, though, it is important to note again the imperative that students become involved and vocal in these things; unless you do, you might never realize the impact you have. Only attendance can facilitate response and promote feeling.

Image via Take Back the Night CU