Last night, a group of activists marched to “took back the night,” in our campus’s annual Take Back the Night event to raise awareness to end sexual violence. Bwogger Jessa Nootbaar was there to record the action, and she only wishes she’d been joined by more community members.
When a member of Take Back the Night told the group assembled in front of her, “The excuses end here,” she was referring to the excuses made for those who commit sexual assault. But another kind of excuse came to my mind. Excuses for not participating in the fight against sexual assault.
Earlier in the day, I had received a text from a good friend of mine, a CC ‘19 student. “Weird question,” he wrote. “Since you do all that campus news stuff, do you know what’s being protested outside right now and why they’re making so much damn noise when I just want to take a nap.” Shortly after, an anonymous tipper submitted to Bwog, “what is that noise outside butler uggghhhhhhhhhh [sic].”
Both had been referring to an earlier Columbia Divest for Climate Justice protest, not Take Back the Night, but they illustrated a critical point when I wondered why the turnout had been so dismal.
In her coverage of Take Back the Night last year, Bwog’s current Managing Editor Maddie Stearn, BC ’17, pointed out the event’s concerning lack of attendance, even after many had expressed interest on Facebook.
I know that there must be more than just fifty people on Columbia and Barnard’s campuses who oppose sexual assault, but, in Maddie’s words, “Where are you?”
After I commented on this absence to a friend and fellow march participant, she responded thoughtfully, “The responsibility of preventing sexual assault shouldn’t be the survivors’.” It’s not only unfair, it’s ineffective. The culture of a school cannot be changed without the participation of the community.
Mallika Walia, BC ’16, the rally speaker, explained, “We live in a world where victim-blaming and shaming consistently take priority over survivors’ safety.” And, once again, the words held a double meaning for me, as I reflected on the priorities of my peers.
It was unfortunate that so many other campus events conflicted with Take Back the Night. It was more unfortunate that Columbia students as a whole seemed to value an hour towards studying over an hour participating in a crucial event that supports survivors, empowers students, and raises awareness.
As people came to their windows, intrigued by our chants, or tried to take Snapchat videos of the group moving down the middle of Broadway, I wondered why they didn’t join us. Perhaps people feel unqualified, thinking the event is reserved exclusively for survivors or those intimately tied to issues of sexual violence. But the only qualifier necessary was a passion to change the currently toxic environment surrounding sexual violence, especially on college campuses.
It was easy to pick up the chants; they were listed in a pamphlet handed out at the rally before the march. “Hey hey! Ho ho! Sexual violence has got to go!” became, “Hey hey! Prezbo!” as we passed Faculty House. We shouted, “Rape is a felony, even with CU ID!” as we passed dorms and frat houses. Several faculty members involved in SHIFT (Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation) walked with us, and we were escorted by the NYPD.
The march allowed us to take over dark streets which typically feel unwelcoming or even terrifying. It allowed us to yell when we are usually subdued to silence. It was undeniably empowering, and I wished more students had experienced it.
Let’s make our University a place where serious issues aren’t reduced to noise complaints.
Photo via a Bwog staffer
@CC '17 I’m all for ending sexual assault, but I couldn’t help but be amused by their chant “Rape is a felony, even with CUID.”
That’s correct. Rape is a felony. Last time I checked, there is no university policy that says that students are free to rape anyone they choose within the confines of our campus. Nor is there, as far as I’m aware, a law that says that you don’t need consent if you’re within those confines.
I agree that we need to change attitudes about sex if we want to see a drop in the number of sexual assaults. At the end of the day, however, it is absurd to rely on a poorly-trained university bureaucracy to prosecute our rapes with some third-world trial system. Rape is a felony, even with CUID. Let’s take these cases to the people responsible for finding felons, the police.
@Anonymous The world isn’t divided into Real Things and Things That Happen On The Internet.
No one at Take Back the Night is voting, or building a house, or occupying a building to put pressure on some institution. It’s an entirely symbolic event. That doesn’t make it not real, but it does make it different.
The world isn’t the same as it was when Take Back the Night started. Who would I even talk to if I’d been raped in the 70s? How would I find someone else? There’d be no Googling for what to do, I’d have to tell someone what happened to even ask. There’d be be no way to find other survivors without really exposing myself, I might as well stand in the in the middle of campus and pass out fliers: “Anyone else been raped?”
It was very important to have a big event then because the wall of silence was a lot bigger. It’s gotten much smaller, partly because of activism, but mostly for unrelated reasons.
I don’t go because I find this kind of mass solidarity event intensely isolating and alienating. You were empowered by the event, that’s great. More power to you. But I think attendance is down because it’s an organization for a different era and it’s no longer the only way to achieve its ends, not because we stopped caring.
@Anonymous Well… I was worried about this happening, and here it is.
All the attention on sexual assault activism went away when Emma Sulkowicz graduated- it turned out more people were into the attention than they were into sexual-assault activism.
Maybe people felt they ‘did that already’, felt Take Back’s emphasis on street-marches wasn’t relevant to the much more-prevalent threat of acquaintance and date rape, had general activism-burnout, or maybe they did feel that saying they’d be there was enough support (never count on those people in a fight), but the attendance numbers bear this out.