Students take stand against sexual violence

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Photo by Santiago Sanchez.

On Friday afternoon, over 100 members of the Yale community gathered on Cross Campus to take a stance against sexual violence.

They were attendees of Take Back the Night, an event planned by 10 undergraduates to encourage the campus to stand together against sexual misconduct and build a community of respect. The organizers included Community and Consent Educators, and students involved with the Women’s Center and Students Against Sexual Violence at Yale.

Though TBTN officially spans several days, Friday afternoon’s event featured a Speak Out session that encouraged students to share their thoughts and experiences on sexual violence. Evan Walker-Wells ’14, a CCE who helped plan the event, said TBTN is intended to focus on empowerment.

“Instead of there being a right way to talk about this, or the right kind of story to tell … we wanted to make sure that people really feel in control of their stories,” Walker-Wells said. “This was a chance for people to think constructively of where to go from here.”

Walker-Wells said Friday’s event was not officially associated with the national Take Back the Night Foundation — which has hosted events fighting against sexual violence since the 1970s — but the theme of the event fell in line with the national organization’s message.

Performances from singing groups such as the Yale Alley Cats and the Yale Gospel Choir were interspersed throughout the speak out.

Amy Napleton ’14 said the event was “incredibly powerful” and perfectly mixed storytelling and poetic and musical performances to address the nuances and complexity of sexual violence, she said.

“It didn’t take any one tone. It took a really multifaceted approach to a complicated set of issues that are present in society without zoning into one thing,” Napleton said.

Though he was not involved in planning previous TBTN events, Walker-Wells said this year’s Speak Out was a “more focused, more perfected” version of a similar event that was held last year. He added that though the format of the event is common across the country, not all are held in public locations.

Holding the event on Cross Campus seemed to encourage more attendees to speak in front of the audience than if the event had been held in a private space, he said.

“In a private circle, it can feel like there’s a lot of pressure to speak,” he said. “In some ways, I think [the event’s public nature] what made Friday’s event so special: a sense of community.”

In a public space, Walker-Wells said, it is easier to powerfully convey the message that sexual violence is something that needs to be discussed and addressed.

Walker-Wells said the interspersed musical performances contributed to a positive tone while also allowing for reflection on the speakers’ words.

Elizabeth Villarreal ’16, who serves as business coordinator of the Yale Women’s Center but was not involved in the event planning, said the stories told at the event reiterated important points about sexual violence.

“Sexual assault isn’t about sex — it’s about power,” she said, adding that she was pleased with the audience’s respectfulness and the overall turnout.

Other themes addressed at the event were intimate partner violence, sexual violence in homosexual relationships and violence against males.

In addition to Friday’s Speak Out, other TBTN events took place over the weekend, including a dance at the Afro-American Cultural Center on Friday evening and an informal brunch on Saturday at the Women’s Center. Villarreal, who attended both these events, said the dance was a “cool experiment to put what [was] discussed into practice.”

The brunch, Villarreal said, allowed casual discussion about the previous day’s events and afforded the opportunity for students to meet people in the Yale community who also recognize the importance of addressing issues of sexual violence. Walker-Wells, who also attended the brunch, said he hopes the follow-up events helped demonstrate that the conversation about sexual violence does not end after the Speak Out does.

“We want to use the Speak Out as a jumping-off point for folks to think seriously about what this community looks like and what we can do to help,” he said.

The event also received support from the Yale College Dean’s Office, the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center and 22 other campus groups.

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