Tomorrow, from 1–3 p.m., the Communication and Consent Educators, The Women’s Center and Unite Against Sexual Assault at Yale will be co-hosting this year’s Take Back the Night Speak Out on Cross Campus.
Since the mid-1970s, college campuses around the world have held TBTN events to provide survivors with a supportive space to share their stories and to raise awareness about sexual assault. The original vision consisted of a speak out where survivors shared experiences of violence and then participated in a nighttime march intended to “reclaim” dangerous spaces. But this model often left survivors feeling defeated and hopeless and played on racialized tropes (most of the “dangerous” spaces were low-income communities of color), so ours is much different. In the hopes of creating a supportive, empowering and constructive experience, Yale’s TBTN consists of a series of events that provide many options to engage with issues of sexual respect alongside a powerful daytime Speak Out that invites all of us — each and every member of the Yale community — to build a positive sexual climate.
I attended the Speak Out for the first time last year, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Admittedly, I was a little nervous. I had been working as a CCE for about a year and had come to care very deeply about creating a culture of sexual respect on our campus. After a long and emotionally taxing year, I wanted to know that other people cared too, that they would support Yale survivors. I wanted to know that other people were fighting this fight too. It wasn’t always easy, but in the end, I felt hopeful.
The Speak Out will be an opportunity for the Yale campus to come together and reflect about our campus sexual climate, but also an opportunity to feel — to express our joy, anger, excitement, resentment, relief and everything in between. It will feature a patchwork of stories — some of violation and violence, some of choice and empowerment. Some of us will share experiences, others will read spoken word poetry and still others will sing. It will be a space in which survivors can feel acknowledged, supported and loved. And it will be a space in which all of us, people from every corner and community on our campus, can come together to discuss sexual respect.
Yet we won’t just speak; we will also listen. We will listen to our peers speak about their pain, their hopes, their disappointments and their courage. We will listen to our peers, and we will make them feel supported, maybe by nodding, hugging, crying, snapping or even by the simple act of truly hearing — and respecting — what they have to say. Sometimes it will be difficult and other times uplifting, but the important thing is that we’re all standing together in solidarity.
There will be a lot to be learned from the mosaic of the Speak Out. The stories told will broaden the narrative of sexual misconduct. They will show us that sexual disrespect is never okay, even when it doesn’t rise to the level of harassment or assault. They will move us past the mold of “victimhood” to see that there is no singular way to react to sexual violence. They will challenge us not to think of survivors in terms of dichotomies — broken or not broken, angry or not angry, silent or vocal. The many stories of TBTN will reaffirm the importance of supporting our friends and peers and of creating a Yale that respects, values and empowers everyone around us. Sexual assault is something that happens to someone, not something that defines them.
All in all, the Speak Out — and TBTN in general — is about our community values. It will ask us to reflect on what we want in our spaces, in our groups and in our lives. And most importantly, it will move us to consider how to go about changing our campus culture.
Lucia Baca is a senior in Pierson College. She is a Communication and Consent Educator. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .