From April 13 to April 20, the Yale Communication and Consent Educators, the Women’s Center and Unite Against Sexual Assault at Yale will co-host the annual Take Back the Night week. It is an international, weeklong movement with the goal of fighting against sexual misconduct on campus. Since its creation in 1975, college students around the world have held Take Back the Night to unite and to raise awareness of issues sexual disrespect. Early college Take Back the Night events featured marches through city streets surrounding university campuses, Yale organizers have since moved away from imagining sexual assault solely as a phenomenon in dark alleyways off campus. Realizing the way these images perpetuate racialized threats divorced from the realities of sexual assault, Yale Take Back the Night instead focuses on creating spaces for survivors to share stories and to create a change in campus culture. In this post #MeToo moment, Take Back the Night takes on new meaning as we all grapple with the movement’s implications.
More than ever, we, the Yale community, have a responsibility to care for one another and to engage in these conversations about sexual assault on our campus. We know how pervasive sexual disrespect is. We know it touches communities around the world and within our campus. We know that it too often goes unacknowledged. But as #MeToo has grown into campuswide and nationwide conversations, we have also seen what it looks like when we demand better. Building on the legacy of advocates and organizers from across the country, survivors and their allies on this campus have imagined a new reality. They’ve shown us what it looks like to support people who have experienced sexual violence, to create spaces for sharing experiences and to advocate for change. Through their advocacy, they challenge us to create a new Yale — one where sexual disrespect of all forms is taken seriously and where sexual respect and accountability are the norm.
Throughout the week there will be a variety of events, ranging from yoga classes, chalking on Cross Campus and writing letters to incarcerated women to a brunch at the Women’s Center. The diversity of events recognizes that there is no one way to share, to reflect or to show support in the wake of sexual disrespect and assault. Take Back the Night invites all Yalies to join in the events. Tomorrow, the Speak Out, which is the traditional centerpiece of Take Back the Night, will take place on Cross Campus. At 1 p.m., students from across campus will tell stories about a range of sexual and romantic experiences — both their own and those submitted anonymously. They’ll share poems and sing songs of empowerment, and it will be a space not only for vulnerability, isolation and violation but also of support, acceptance and mutual recognition.
Many others will come just to listen. And these quiet shows of recognition and support are just as important to shift our campus culture. To push our dialogue around sexual disrespect beyond the typical victim tropes and recognize those who have been looked over, we must create spaces where all survivors feel comfortable. A successful Take Back the Night must be intersectional; it must recognize that sexual disrespect often falls along lines of power, privilege and marginalization. This week is for giving all people who have experienced sexual violence a space to speak, to share and to reflect. It’s as much for those who have spent their Yale careers speaking out about sexual assault as it is for those who have never had a platform to do so. It’s about a diversity of experiences and a diversity of backgrounds. Ultimately, Take Back the Night challenges us to create stronger communities for the survivors around us.
Just as there is no one kind of survivor, there is no one way to Take Back the Night. Come to speak and come to listen. Come to write messages of love and support on the sidewalk, to give hugs and to hold hands — to run, to brunch and to dance. Together, we can create spaces for all survivors on our campus and show solidarity for all experiences.
Michelle Peng is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nyamal Tuor is a sophomore in Morse College. Contact her at email@example.com.