Student leaders, Safe Space volunteers, faculty from the Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education and members of the Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine (SASSMM) will all come together at 7:30 p.m. tonight to host the annual “Take Back the Night” event.
Planning this year’s event has posed significant challenges in comparison to past years due to the tense political and social climate nationally—most recently aggravated by allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh—as well as heated campus conversations about violence. Student organizers including Claire Burns ’21 have been focusing on thoughtfulness and intentionality throughout the planning process.
“It’s always a hard time [to be a sexual assault survivor], but this is a particularly hard time,” said Burns. “The tone that we’re going for is to provide hope and inspiration to people.”
An ad hoc committee has been organized to ensure that the event feels as safe as possible.
Pre-selected students will be invited to share their own personal experiences as survivors of sexual and relationship violence. Other speakers will include students who have opted not to share their personal experiences but instead read excerpts of essays or poems written by other Bowdoin students. Regardless of what and how students choose to participate, event planners are most concerned that they do so in a way that feels safe and empowering.
Associate Director of Gender Violence Prevention and Education Lisa Peterson reiterated the importance of making the event inclusive to survivors regardless of gender.
“A lot of recent conversation has been focusing on the experiences of women-identified survivors, which is really important, but it’s also really important to us that we’re not erasing the experiences of male survivors or of transgender and gender nonconforming survivors,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot of intentionality about framing this as an issue that affects people of all genders and identities.”
Following the spoken program, attendees will have the option to partake in the candlelit vigil walk. The intended tone of the walk is one of meditation, in which students may reflect quietly. Resources will be available to students throughout the entirety of the evening.
“The route around campus has been planned intentionally to allow participants to reflect on what it means to be a sexual assault survivor on campus,” said Burns.
The walk will conclude with a reception at 24 College.
“I think that [the reception] can be a nice place for people to either debrief how they are feeling and get support from folks, or to help them transition back into the rest of their evening routine in a more gentle way,” said Peterson.
Planners hope that Friday’s event will encourage thoughtful conversation and critical thinking when it comes to individual actions. They also want the event to instill a hopefulness in survivors to alleviate the frustration and anger that exists in the current social climate.
Event planners reiterated that when sexual or relationship violence occurs on campus it affects everyone, even in ways that some students might not immediately consider. Planners emphasized the sense of alliance that they hope this year’s event will inspire.
“The more people we have, the bigger the message it sends to the broader campus community,” said Burns. “It’s important for people to know that their being [at the event] matters, and it matters to a lot of people.”
In a time when survivors are trying to regain their voice, planners feel it is essential for the campus community to attend, thereby showing survivors they are heard and demonstrating unwavering support to survivors of all identities.