Take Back The Night, the University of Richmond's annual event to raise awareness for sexual violence, garnered its largest crowd of student supporters and speakers since 2009.

The open-microphone discussion was held Monday in the university forum, where male and female students gathered to listen to their peers speak about sexual assault. The event has been present on campus for many years and was designed for the Richmond community to show respect to sexual assault victims and their supporters.

Kerry Fankhauser, associate dean of Westhampton College, said she had taken over the role of event adviser five years ago.

"I worked with a colleague who advised the students in Student Voices Against Violence," Fankhauser said. "That group is no longer in existence, but I started working with different students to do Take Back The Night together every year."

The event began with a short concert by Richmond's coed a cappella group Choeur Du Roi, which was followed by an introduction from Mary Elizabeth Lovelace, a senior and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Outreach intern who has been active in Take Back The Night since her freshman year.

"Three other CAPS interns and I contacted Kerry to see if she needed help with the event," Lovelace said. "We did all of the publicity for the event, and we hope to show that we're taking a stand against sexual violence as a campus."

After Lovelace's introduction, students were invited to the microphone to share their stories and ideas about sexual assault.

"Speak Out is the largest part of the event," Fankhauser said. "It's when survivors, friends and community members alike can voice any experiences, opinions or thoughts surrounding the issue of sexual violence."

Though Fankhauser said she had feared that the weather might deter a large attendance, the Speak Out portion of the event lasted for more than two hours -- the longest Speak Out that Lovelace has seen since her freshman year.

"I think the amount of people who attended and spoke tonight confirmed that sexual violence is not tolerated on our campus," Lovelace said. "It was so emotional, but so empowering to hear everyone's stories and see the support within our community."

Though the recent change in the university's sexual misconduct policy brought the issues of consent and sexual violence to the forefront within the student body, Fankhauser said it did not play a large role in the development of Take Back The Night this year.

"Though the policy played a part in the increasing student awareness of sexual violence on campus, we've simply recognized from our work that this continues to be an issue," Fankhauser said. "It affects our students' well-being and educational opportunities, so we're trying to raise awareness in as many different ways as possible."

"With regards to the policy change, I would hope that students feel they are more supported by the school," Lovelace said.

This was verified at Take Back The Night, as the moment of silence that concludes the ceremony every year was held in honor of the victims and their supporters.

"It's something I've cared about for a long, long time," Fankhauser said. "I've been really happy to see it so well-received by the student body."

To learn more about how to "shatter the silence and stop the violence," visit www.takebackthenight.org.

Contact reporter Laura Allen at laura.allen@richmond.edu

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