The Collegian
Sunday, December 05, 2021

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Community members march in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault

Protesters march through Tyler Haynes Commons on their way to the Westhampton Green.
Protesters march through Tyler Haynes Commons on their way to the Westhampton Green.

Editor's note: Confidential sexual assault resources for UR students include CARE Advocates, which can be reached at advocate@richmond.edu or 804.801.6251; Peer Sexual Misconduct Advisors (PSMA), at psma@richmond.edu or 804.346.7674; CAPS, at CAPS@richmond.edu or 804.289.8119; Virginia LGBTQ Partner Abuse and Sexual Assault Helpline (24/7), at 866.356.6998; Greater Richmond Regional Hotline (24/7), at 804.612.6126; National Sexual Assault Hotline (24/7) at 800.656.HOPE.

University of Richmond students, staff and faculty gathered on campus Friday for a silent march in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault. 

The march, named Take Back oUR Night after protests in the 1970s against violence against women, began at noon on the lawn between the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business and the T.C. Williams School of Law and ended at the Westhampton Green after a student-led discussion.

First-year students Christian Herald and Elena Durazo organized the march after they felt like nothing was being done about recent sexual assaults on campus, they said.

“We’re really just trying to kind of take back a space that I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to fully get back after the violence that occurred,” Durazo said.

After reading about the Oct. 25 arrest of a sophomore student on three felony charges, the two started brainstorming ways in which they could make a difference on campus and began organizing the march and an email campaign demanding a statement from administration, Herald said.

“We just wanted to make a strong, decisive community statement that we will not tolerate this on our campus and we want the school to do better in supporting survivors and preventing interpersonal violence,” Durazo said. 

Durazo and Herald then created an Instagram account for the march, @take_back_our_night, to better mobilize and publicize the march and answer frequently asked questions, they said.

Despite knowing social media would be the best way to get the word out to students, Durazo said that she has mixed feelings about using Instagram for advocacy.  

“That was another thing that we were really frustrated about with activism on campus -- a lot of it seemed very performative, both from students and the admin... 

“The silent aspect of the march, in addition to the incredibly somber topic of it, is because we want to be as anti-performative as possible,” Durazo said.

Though they said that the Oct. 25 arrest was their primary call to action to organize the march, Durazo said, “It’s very important to acknowledge that it’s a campus-wide movement, and the purpose of the march is to honor and support all survivors.”

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Before the march, Herald and Durazo spoke to the crowd of over 100 attendees wearing red in support of survivors and acknowledgement of the denoted “Red Zone,” the time period of increased vulnerability to interpersonal violence on college campuses from the beginning of the semester through Thanksgiving.

They also administered a trigger warning for themes surrounding sexual assault stressed the importance of absolute silence before beginning the march.

“The only sounds we should be able to hear are the sounds of our feet on the ground,” she said. “You can think of it as an extended moment of silence.”

They also gave an acknowledgement to the indigenous people who occupied the land that UR was built on, as well as the enslaved people that were buried under UR. Even though they were not survivors of sexual assault necessarily, they were still survivors of genocide, exploitation and violence, Herald said.

“This march is about survivors,” Herald said. “We need to honor them and respect them in everything we do.”

Attendees marched across campus with students holding signs that read, “Spiders Support Survivors,” “Enough is Enough,” “UR Has a Sexual Assault Problem,” “We Demand a Safer Campus,” “UR Doesn’t Care About Students” and “Even a Dog Knows What No Means.”

Take Back oUR Night Protest Signs
Protestors march onto the Westhampton Green, one carrying a whiteboard reading, "MOST SURVIVORS MARCH IN SILENCE EVERY DAY... #BreaktheSilence #FighttheNewDrug."

The discussion afterward was a space for students only to discuss their experiences with assault and allyship. Faculty and staff left the Westhampton Green after the march ended. 

Several students came forward to tell their stories about experiences with sexual assault as well as to talk about their feelings and frustration with the campus culture and UR’s handling of sexual assault cases. 

Students also read survivor’s stories that were anonymously submitted to the Take Back Our Night Instagram account. 

Members of Spiders Against Sexual Assault & Violence helped lead the discussion with Durazo and Herald, and Peer Sexual Misconduct Advisors were walking around with tissues and would talk with students who needed to step away.

Senior Pranay Bhootra, who attended the march and discussion, thinks that sometimes students are not aware of the extent of sexual assaults on campus, he said. But, it is important to put himself in situations like the discussion where people are speaking more about what is actually happening, he added.

“I think, as a guy, I don’t hear much about it, but then I hear from my female friends, … and being in a space like this keeps me more grounded to reality and helps me be more cognizant of what’s actually happening so I can be more empathetic of this and, I think, just not let shit slide,” he said.

After the discussion, Herald also said she was surprised with the number of survivors who had spoken, as well as the overall number of people who had attended the march.

“To be honest, we were really not sure if we could pull it off,” she said. “We were like, whether five people or 500 show up, we’re gonna be walking.”

Both Herald and Durazo said that they had always known they would be involved with campus activism, but had not realized how soon.

“We’ve been on this campus for like three months, and it's already just like we’ve been thrown into this world,” Herald said. 

Durazo said she had mixed feelings about being a first-year organizing the march. She had been a little surprised that upperclassmen did not initiate anything, but she understands because of how exhausting and demoralizing it has been.

“I feel like I’ve had to, like, grow up a little bit already,” Herald added.

Durazo and Herald also took part in an email campaign to UR administration initiated by an Instagram account, @spiders_against_rape_culture, which followed in President Kevin Hallock and Vice President Steve Bisese sending students an email regarding recent sexual assaults on campus. 

“Though we have not been on campus for very long, we have realized that there is a fundamental problem with sexual assault at UofR,” Herald and Durazo wrote in their email.

Each administrator received approximately 500 total emails from students, according to a post by @spiders_against_rape_culture.

The Instagram account also posted a response to the statement from Hallock and Bisese, demanding that “the university do more to dismantle the way r*pe culture manifests itself on this campus.”

Spiders Against Rape Culture, SASAV and Take Back oUR Night are working together to explore next steps and create a list of demands for UR, Herald said.

Durazo said that the march had only been step one in their efforts to make a difference on campus.

They still want more transparency from administration, better Title IX procedures, more trauma-informed and consent-informed education, she said. 

“This is not the end, this is the beginning,” Herald said. “This is the beginning of a firm stance against rape culture on our campus and this is meant for us as a community to show that we do not tolerate sexual assault in any single form and that we are committed to the end of rape culture on UofR’s campus.”

Contact news writer Natasha Sokoloff at natasha.sokoloff@richmond.edu

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