On April 7, 2022, students and community members gathered on the main quad to march through the streets in protest of sexual violence on campus. Participants walked from the quad to Angel Park in downtown Sewanee, all the while chanting “Stop the violence! We stand with survivors! We have the power! We have the right! Take back the night!” The organized event, titled Take Back the Night, is an international event and non-profit organization that works to end sexual violence. Hosted by Sewanee’s Title IX office, the event was brought to Sewanee in order to provide people a productive way to discuss the issue and consider actionable steps for the future to combat sexual discrimination and violence on campus.
Deputy Director of the Title IX office, Kaylei Goodine, says that one reason the office really wanted to bring Take Back the Night to Sewanee is to “give people an avenue to talk about these issues and allow students to hear what is going on on campus from their peers.” The office hopes to make this event an annual tradition and Goodine mentions that the office has already booked the quad for April of 2023. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and this event is an impactful kick-off weekly events hosted by the Title IX office.
Take Back the Night differs from other events that the office hosts because Goodine says, “Programming through our office is becoming a newer and more expansive opportunity. This one is more of a community gathering event to reflect on the current standards that we hold and how we can move forward from there.” Speakers included, Rosario-Caliz Josue (aka Dean Sway) the Dean of Community Standards, Director of Multicultural Affairs/ Inclusive Excellence Rachel Fredericks, Interfraternity Council Vice President of Diversity Equity and Inclusion Silas McClung (C’24), Chair of STIX Mary Emily Morris (C’22), and School of Theology graduate student Audra Ryes.
McClung says, “Once I signed up Chi Psi, my fraternity, we wanted to see what else we could do besides just volunteer. So I reached out to Jimmy Wilson, a Chi Psi alum, at Blue Chair to see how Take Back the Night could incorporate more of the community. Originally, we weren’t walking all the way to Angel Park but then Wilson suggested marching downtown and offered to provide food from Blue Chair.” What really inspired McClung to help was “reckoning with my fraternity’s issues in the past and present. Fraternities need to become spaces that are free of sexual violence and that takes work and social accountability and leadership within.”
Each speaker discussed the importance of Sexual Assault Awareness and why Sewanee, as a community, should take action. Once in Angel Park, participants were allowed to speak up with their own advice and experiences on and off campus. Goodine says, “There is action that can be taken. We are a community and we need to listen to each other. We need to have those conversations and then we need to do something about it.” She then explains the structure of Sexual Assault Awareness Month with a weekly theme. Speak Out, Awareness, Affirming, and Momentum are the four focuses of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Take Back the Night functioned as the first week’s theme of Speak Out. Goodine says they structured it this way in order to promote action and continue the work against sexual violence going after April.
Goodine says one of the most important things that students can take away from their participation in Take Back the Night is, “Anyone can do something. I think students have a very powerful voice, probably the most powerful voice on this campus. Also, this is a community-wide issue that requires a community response.”
McClung says, “I hope that students really listen to and believe survivors. We can speak up all we want, but at some point we as students have to take responsibility and take action. At the very least I hope people break their silence about this issue, especially fraternity men. It is a community issue that should impact all of us.”
Before participants left Angel Park, there was a candlelight vigil for survivors. Each participant received a candle and then placed it on the bottom step of the stage and the community held a moment of silence before beginning the walk back up the hill.
For the rest of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Title IX office is hosting a multitude of events that students, faculty and administration, and community members are encouraged to attend. Goodine says that she is especially excited for the Teal Ribbon Awards, which acknowledge individuals who have contributed and are working hard to fight sexual discrimination and violence on-campus, Events throughout April include keynote speaker Sonya Renee Taylor, White Ribbon: Men of the Movement, and Denim Day. A full calendar of events for SAAM is available here and in your Sewanee email from Dr. Sylvia Gray, Title IX Coordinator, or through the link on the Student Title IX Committee’s Instagram.
Cover photo courtesy of Lakeisha Phillps (C’22).