“[We need to] realize that it’s not just a female problem, it’s a male problem too. You just heard the statistic; 1 in 33 men will be assaulted in their lifetime, and I’m one of them,” described a Fairfield junior, and survivor of sexual assault at Take Back the Night, a nationwide event that occurred on campus the night of April 13.
Eight sexual assault and intimate-partner violence survivors and volunteers shared personal stories and statistics of verbal and physical abuse, molestation and sexual assault at various locations around campus to spread awareness. Adorned with small electronic tea light candles and white ribbons of solitude, around 70 students and faculty members walked with the survivors to show support for their fellow classmates and friends.
According to Take Back the Night’s website, the foundation began in the late 1960s and their mission is to end all forms of sexual and domestic violence. Help from Fairfield University’s Student Association Senate members Bobby Bohny ‘16 and Katie Santo ‘19, and assistant director of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs Carrie Robinson allowed Meghan Baer ‘16, the director of the event, and a sexual assault survivor to revamp Take Back the Night. This year, Baer incorporated school sponsorship to increase participation and spread awareness. In light of the recent alleged sexual assault that occurred on campus the weekend of April 9, the message of Take Back the Night is even more profound.
The walkers gathered at the Barone Campus Center information desk at 8:30 p.m. The group then walked to locations such as the lone blue emergency light located on the path to Dolan Hall and the basketball courts behind Lessing Field. Baer said that these are the traditional locations that are always used for the event. According to Baer, these are the most dangerous areas on campus due to their isolation.
Baer explained that some of the speakers were found when she expressed the event’s need for orators at Glee Club, a University club that she attends. One of the speakers, also a junior at the University, has attended Take Back the Night since her freshman year. Having only ever spoken about her trauma with two other people, she made the decision this year to share her story with the crowd.
“I felt with my story it was the right time for me to share my piece. Not a lot of people talk about emotional or verbal abuse, so I felt like it was a good opportunity for me to speak out,” said the junior.
When asked if she believed Take Back the Night could empower other students to speak out about their traumatic experiences, she said yes. The junior explained that by expressing one’s trauma it could bring a sense of connection to other students who have remained silent in the past.
Officer James Cavallaro, a Department of Public Safety officer, walked at Take Back the Night on behalf of the office. John Ritchie, Assistant Director of Public Safety, stated that DPS was involved with Take Back the Night since its beginning. According to Ritchie, in the past, students reported older incidents to DPS because of the comfort that Take Back the Night can create.
“We also learn from this type of event what works and doesn’t work. Law Enforcement response to crimes in general, consistently changes as society changes. Sexual assault more so,” stated Ritchie. He continued, stating that DPS has changed the ways they investigated sexual assaults in the past. Sensitivity, honesty, openness and transparency are now key components that DPS addresses, where they may not have done so in the past, explained Ritchie. “… it’s events like this that allow us to implement modern day best practices,” stated Ritchie.
Junior Riham Majeed, a first-time walker at Take Back the Night, came to the event because she thought it was important to support her fellow classmates. Majeed believed that the setup of the event allowed each individual to share their experience and be understood by the group in a respectful manner as they walked to the next location.
“It’s very important to be present in times like these where people are brave enough to share their experiences,” said Majeed.
Baer, who is also a FUSA Senate member, has participated in Take Back the Night since her sophomore year; although this was her first year running the event herself and with the help of the University.
According to Robinson, the Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs broadcasted the event in Today at Fairfield, a list that is given to faculty and staff each morning to inform them of events taking place that day, and provided funding for materials needed. FUSA Senate was able to provide additional funding and marketing for the event.
“Hopefully by pairing it with FUSA and an outstanding office at Fairfield it [Take Back the Night] actually becomes something that keeps happening, instead of [just] being hosted by clubs,” said Bohny. “Individual clubs have hosted it before and it just didn’t get the momentum.”
Baer said that the help of FUSA and the office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs increased the student participation immensely in comparison to previous years.
Since Baer and Bohny are both seniors, they’re hoping that individuals such as Santo and other clubs at the University will take control of the event once they graduate.
“The more momentum you can get, the [more] people you can get involved, then the more powerful the message is,” said Baer “… I would really love for this to be a part of the University’s culture and hopefully make a lasting impact on the kind of attitudes we have.”