Nearly 400 students gathered in the forum Tuesday night for the University of Richmond’s annual Take Back the Night event.
Take Back the Night, an international non-profit organization committed to ending all forms of sexual, relationship and domestic violence, also hosts events around the world and across the U.S. to raise awareness. According to the organization’s website, each event is a unique expression of a particular community’s vision and goals.
At UR, Take Back the Night is an evening devoted to creating an open forum for survivors, supporters and advocates to help break the silence that exists around sexual violence.
On the night of the event, the sky was a swirled mix of blue, pink and white, serving as the ideal backdrop for this powerful night as two on-campus a capella groups stood before the audience. Hanging t-shirts from the WILL* Clothesline Project were gently swaying behind them as their voices carried important messages. The project itself was a national education effort spreading awareness about the prevalence of domestic violence by allowing those affected to express their experiences on t-shirts.
Members from Off the Cuff sang about the choice not to stay silent, while Choeur du Roi performed a song about healing from the pain of an experience such as sexual violence and ultimately becoming stronger.
Tracy Cassalia, interim deputy Title IX coordinator, welcomed everyone and introduced Take Back the Night as an event to give both survivors and supporters a voice, reminding those in attendance to continue making the choice to be active bystanders.
“There is an overall message of support at this event,” Cassalia said. “Everyone is here to listen and believe.”
Around twenty women who had been affected by sexual violence bravely stood before their peers and shared their stories, some for the very first time.
The silence that resonated through the crowd in between each speaker clearly represented those within the audience who were not yet ready to share their stories.
“I’m really grateful for all the courageous people who came up and spoke, but I’m also grateful for those who were there and didn’t feel comfortable speaking,” Alexandra Abreu, WC ’17, said. Abreu is a Spiders for Spiders facilitator and Peer Sexual Misconduct Advisor (PSMA) program leader.
“I want them to know that their voices are still heard and that there is a lot of support for them as well,” she said.
Many survivors took to the microphone, stating that they hadn’t planned on speaking at the event, but felt that their stories were worth sharing after sensing the support among both the speakers as well as the audience.
“It’s always bittersweet seeing people go up and share their stories, but I’m glad we’re in a community where we feel comfortable enough to be able to share with those that we do know and with those that we don’t,” Abreu said.
Speakers also shared messages of the importance of self-worth.
“You are not his, you are not hers, you are not theirs— you are yours,” Claire Noppenberger, WC ’20, a speaker at the event, said. “Know your self-worth.”
Cat Sciolla, WC ’18, Spiders for Spiders member and co-organizer of UR’s Take Back the Night, closed the night by emphasizing the importance of this event to UR’s community and reminding the audience of the resources available to them if they ever experience sexual violence.
“The importance of this night is priceless because this event can save people's lives,” Sciolla said. “By raising awareness in such a powerful and tangible manner, it makes it much easier for people who have no experience with this issue to comprehend and become active bystanders.
"Events like this are what we need in order to see change and see support on this campus. Please just continue to love and support one another. Please never forget that you are strong, you are powerful, and you are amazing.”
Confidential on-campus resources include CAPS, the Student Health Center, the Chaplaincy office and all PSMA members. Other campus resources include RC and WC dean’s offices, the Title IX office and campus police. Survivors can seek help off-campus at Safe Harbor or St. Mary’s Hospital.
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