Today, from 1 to 3 p.m. on Cross Campus, the Women’s Center and the Communication and Consent Educators will host Yale’s annual “Take Back the Night Speak Out.” TBTN is an international event that seeks to draw attention to sexual violence. In so many ways, TBTN brings the Yale community together. Groups will come to the event wearing their respective gear; friends will come out to support each other; individuals will pause to listen as they walk across campus. It is a powerful, complex and meaningful experience for those who share their stories, thoughts, songs and poetry, as well as for those who listen.
It is a chance for Yale students to come together and support survivors of sexual violence, a chance to be inspired by each other’s courage and creativity — a chance to build a stronger campus. It’s also a chance to give a voice to students with a broad range of sexual experiences.
The event is a mosaic, a space for all types of stories. At the speak out, you’ll hear about violence and violation, but also about respect, personal agency and empowerment. Someone may stand up and say two words. Another will glide and twirl and express their thoughts with movement and dance. Someone will sit on the steps and place a hand on the back of a friend. There will be poetry, there will be song. There will be many who cry, both during and afterwards, and many who find empowerment in the conversations that happen later with friends. There is space for it all, because we can only see real change if the conversation can welcome everyone. Experiences of sexual violence come in many forms. We hope to make room for all of these stories at today’s event.
Yale’s Take Back the Night is thus structured to reflect the diversity of ways we express our power and show our support. There are so many ways we think about, talk about and respond to sexual violence. The event is powerful because it moves away from the idea that there is one only one standard story, only one type of survivor. Sharing a story of personal violation at TBTN can be incredibly empowering, but we know it is only one of many paths to finding support. We honor all the ways we share (and don’t share) our stories, all the ways we build a community of love and respect.
The Women’s Center has been working for several years to modify Take Back the Night on Yale’s campus; for the past three years, the CCEs have teamed up with the Women’s Center. Previous TBTNs were generally held at night, and consisted of a speak out and a march through spaces that needed to be “taken back.” While well-intentioned, this model of TBTN too often presumed (and enforced) a very narrow version of being a survivor. And too often, it led mostly to despair. We are working to create a Take Back the Night that is both inclusive and uplifting; we are striving to make space for a broad range of experiences and to focus on empowerment. To change the tone, we hold our event during the day, encourage more diversity in the ways people speak and share at the microphone and no longer march. By moving away from the typical survivor narrative, we hope to make TBTN a more powerful and relevant experience for everyone.
There will be smaller events before and after the speak out as well. Everyone is welcome to join the CCEs and Women’s Center staff members Friday morning to color Cross Campus with chalk so that the physical space is warm and welcoming. The speak out creates a lot of energy — on Friday night, there will a floating dance party to channel that energy into a fun, positive and respectful physical presence. We know that people often wake up on the next day wanting to talk, so we will host a casual brunch at the Women’s Center on Saturday morning, with representatives from the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education Center and the CCEs. People also leave the speak out inspired by the power of honest speech — and so on Sunday, the Purple Crayon will lead a workshop on using improv techniques to be more present, open and real with romantic and sexual partners. Finally, members of SHARE will be at the Women’s Center next Thursday evening for an office hours-style event to reflect on lingering concerns and reactions from TBTN that may affect students later in the week.
We hope this calendar of events will offer everyone on campus opportunities for reflection, learning, empowerment and growth. Yalies across the spectrums of gender, race and sexuality are struggling to respond to the impact of sexual violence and working to build a more respectful sexual culture. As organizers of Take Back the Night, we hope to offer an event that has space for everyone who wants to be part of this project. We hope to foster an environment in which people with all sorts of experiences feel safe expressing themselves. Join us this afternoon for the TBTN speak out.
Cassie Lignelli is a freshman in Davenport College and the Special Events Coordinator for the Women’s Center. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org . Corey Malone-Smolla is a junior in Timothy Dwight College and a Communication and Consent Educator. Contact her at email@example.com .