Dozens of students gathered on Cross Campus last Friday afternoon for the annual Take Back the Night speak-out, during which survivors of sexual violence shared their stories in the open air. Take Back the Night events have been held at Yale for decades, but this year’s programming comes on the heels of heightened awareness of Yale’s sexual climate.
Organized by the Yale Women’s Center, Communication and Consent Educators and Unite Against Sexual Assault at Yale, Take Back the Night is a weeklong series of events designed to promote sexual respect. Take Back the Night is held on Yale’s campus every year, as well as on many other campuses across the world, but organizers at Yale said this year’s speak-out attracted a broader range of attendees, given recent events that have plunged Yale into the national spotlight. In particular, survey results from the Association of American Universities last fall showed above-average rates of sexual misconduct on Yale’s campus, and in February, former men’s basketball captain Jack Montague was expelled for violating University policies on sexual misconduct.
USAY Co-Founder and Co-Director Helen Price ’18 told the News that Take Back the Night drew a larger and more diverse crowd this year, which she attributes to the fact that Yale’s sexual environment has been “such a big issue” on campus lately.
“It was very encouraging to see so many attendees who were not from backgrounds traditionally associated with this kind of activism,” she said. “That’s in line with what I’ve seen in the past few weeks — several fraternities and other organizations have reached out to USAY to discuss how they can improve their sexual climate. We’ve also done workshops for the new members of all the fraternities this semester, and it’s been encouraging to see the thoughtfulness and engagement with which they have participated.”
Moving forward, organizers said they are confident that discussions on the topic of sexual misconduct are encouraging — not dividing — the Yale community as students, faculty members and administrators alike seek to promote a better sexual climate on campus.
Take Back the Night sends the message that it is all right to talk about sexual violence and to share personal stories without feeling ashamed, said Nat Aramayo ’17, who is a CCE and one of the speak-out’s three moderators.
“Given all of the things that have happened over the last year, I think there was even more of an emphasis on making this event ring true to what it has been for the last few years,” Aramayo said. “[Take Back the Night] is not a place to call out or … encourage negativity and draining conversations … but instead to have spaces and activities that make people feel empowered and feel like they are not having their personhood reduced to an instance or experience of trauma.”
Nevertheless, Aramayo said not all survivors need to speak out in public, since individuals deal with their experiences in many different ways. It is about “meeting people where they need to be met,” they said.
Other activities scheduled as part of Take Back the Night include a yoga class, a floating dance party and an improv workshop on positive communication.
Price added that she hopes the discussions about sexual violence and proper conduct on this campus will lead to a “tangible, permanent” shift in Yale’s sexual culture.
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Director of the Office of Gender and Campus Culture Melanie Boyd ’90, who organized many Take Back the Night events when she was an undergraduate at Yale and moderated the 1989 speak-out, said she has found her experiences with the events to be “powerful” and “formative.” Take Back the Night has evolved over time and become more flexible for different people’s needs in recent years, she said.
For example, while the speak out was once held during the evening, it is now held during the day to ensure that it is open to everyone, regardless of gender, Price said.
Boyd said this year’s organizers focused on broadening the range of experiences shared at the microphone and expanding other related events, as both survivors and allies looked for different ways to participate.
“Given how long and hard this year has been for so many students, the 2016 [Take Back the Night] placed a strong emphasis on mutual support and self-care,” she said.
CCE Lucia Baca ’17, who also moderated the speak-out, described Yale’s version of Take Back the Night as “particularly constructive.” The daytime speak-out included both stories of violation and of empowerment that ultimately sought to support survivors, she said. Baca added that the programming also helps broaden the narrative of sexual respect, break down the mold of victimhood and reaffirm the importance of supporting friends and peers on campus.
Four attendees interviewed agreed that the Take Back the Night speak-out was a positive learning experience.
Senior Associate Athletic Director for Student Services Brian Tompkins, the former head coach of Yale men’s soccer and one of the attendees on Friday, said he was made aware of Take Back the Night through his involvement with the Intercultural Affairs Council and the Yale Women’s Center. He attended the speak-out because he was interested in hearing the testimony of students who can “better educate” him regarding Yale’s sexual climate, Tompkins said.
“I was moved by the courage of the people who spoke, particularly those dealing with the aftermath of some harrowing events,” he said.
Given recent campus controversies, Tompkins said there is a heightened sensitivity to Yale’s sexual climate. He added that while there are ongoing challenges facing the community, many people are invested in creating a safe and supportive campus.
“The message that [Take Back the Night] aims to send has evolved a lot over the years. It began as being very defiant, but now has shifted to focus on inclusivity and support for survivors,” Price said. “I think it’s a great event to end the year on, and can promote a lot of conversation on campus.”