The night began with a packed room. Every seat and every table in the 900 Room was filled with people fitting into every possible gap around the walls and railings. The smell of pizza and the sounds of congenial conversation and laughter gave the room a pleasant and warm sensation amidst the hustle of normal Davidson life.
At 7:00 pm, there was a brief introduction and then the first story began. In the silence that followed, the room filled with a palpable energy: a silence packed with tears, love, anger, a total compilation of the range of human emotions. Slowly but surely, the dam breaks as one student after another approaches the microphone and shares their story.
Monday night, April 18, students and faculty from every grade and department came out to Take Back the Night. Organized by the Rape Awareness Committee (RAC), Take Back the Night is an event giving a voice to those willing to share their stories of sexual assault, whether they are a first or second hand survivor. Adopted as early as the 1970’s, women’s rights groups across Europe and the United States have organized everything from marches to candle light vigils under the name, “Take Back the Night.”
The official Take Back the Night organization (TBTN) has advocated against what their website labels as an ongoing epidemic of sexual violence. TBTN participants have organized activities tackling a wide swath of issues ranging from domestic violence to porn and media portrayals of women. Since the late 1990s, TBTN events have shifted away from the large demonstrations to be more locally focused events at places like college campuses, women’s shelters, and clinics.
At Davidson, Take Back the Night takes on a slightly different face. The first campus TBTN event was organized several years ago by the RAC. According to RAC president Ashley Frye ‘19, “Our job is just to make Davidson campus aware of what consent is, and why it’s important. Our main goal is to get out the idea that consent is good, and also to make people aware of the policies of Davidson regarding sexual assault.”
With regards to TBTN at Davidson, RAC Vice President Conor Hussey ‘18 said, “The way Davidson does [TBTN] is pretty unique compared with the way other college campuses do this.” In contrast to the vigils or screenings of most TBTN events, the Davidson event is structured around an open microphone.
“[Our event is] a forum and a space where anyone can get up and take the [microphone] as a primary survivor or as a secondary survivor to share their stories of sexual assault,” said Hussey. For Frye, “It all goes back to thinking about all of this in a qualitative way not a quantitative one, it’s not just data and numbers… It’s important to hear real stories; you see these people, you know these people and that can be super powerful.”
While the evening was clearly a great step forward in the healing process for many in the room, most of the stories raised questions and concerns for the existing culture of rape and sexual assault on Davidson’s campus. Some students expressed frustration with the administration’s handling of sexual assault cases while others conveyed anger at the ways that our campus culture perpetrates silence and isolation when responding to issues of sexual assault and rape.
For Hussey, engaging this larger dialogue is essential to the goals of the RAC. He said, “On a base line, our mission is to start conversation and raise awareness around issues of consent.”