Students, faculty support sexual assault survivors

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Women’s, gender and sexuality studies students organize event to raise awareness

Winona State students listen to junior communication studies major Jenn Manglos by the Gazebo on campus before the “Take Back the Night” march on Tuesday, April 18. (Photo by Nikko Aries)

Winona State students listen to junior communication studies major Jenn Manglos by the Gazebo on campus before the “Take Back the Night” march on Tuesday, April 18. (Photo by Nikko Aries)

Elizabeth Pulanco / Winonan

“You are strong, courageous and we believe you.”

These words of support and encouragement were given to survivors of gender-based violence at the annual “Take Back the Night” event on Tuesday, April 18 in the Student Activity Center of Kryzsko Commons.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that one in five women and one in 16 men will be sexually assaulted while in college.

“Take Back the Night” is an international event where individuals can speak about their experiences with gender-based violence and protest the culture surrounding these violent acts.

The event was organized by students in the women’s, gender and sexuality studies program as a part of their senior seminar course, though it is also sponsored by the Winona Women’s Resource Center, the Fighting for Our Rights & Gender Equality group (FORGE), students united and full spectrum.

According to Tamara Berg, a professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, different communities within the city of Winona have hosted the event for over 20 years.

“The first ‘Take Back the Night’ I went to in Winona was at Winona State, and that was in 1995,” Berg said. “There were a couple years where it took place off-campus, hosted by the Women’s Resource Center, and the attendance dropped when it was done off-campus. About 15 years ago, we brought it back to campus.”

For the event, the Student Activity Center was decorated with teal balloons and ribbons, which signified April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. 

The first part of the event was the “Speak Out” session, where sexual assault and gender-based violence survivors told their stories. This session ran for three hours, giving survivors the chance to promote their healing process by talking about what happened to them.

One survivor said, “I am so glad that we are so powerful to stand up against something so terrible.”

After the “Speak Out” session, a group of students marched around campus, shouting chants that expressed the importance of consent and how survivors of gender-based violence deserve justice.

Berg said the marches are symbolically powerful and survivors of gender-based violence and their allies “taking back” the night as a safe space.

Senior women’s, gender, and sexuality studies major Abby Lloyd, who attended the “Speak Out” session and the march, said she believes “Take Back the Night” is a powerful way to show support for survivors.

“It is meaningful to give victims a voice, especially on a campus where many victims see their perpetrators every day,” Lloyd said. “It is helpful to validate their experiences.”

Junior women’s, gender and sexuality studies major Megan Garritty and sophomore social work major Emily Johnson were in charge of the advertising and public relations for the event, which included print and social media promotion.

Garritty—the former vice president of FORGE, the gender equality club on campus—said “Take Back the Night” is important because it provides more awareness for gender-based violence.

“We chose to have it at a more visible location so people on campus walking by would stop and hear the stories and understand that rape culture does exist on this campus and I think a lot of people don’t really think about that,” Garritty said. “You come to this event and you see people talk and you [think] ‘Wow, I had no idea that this happened him or her,’ and it makes you think differently.”

For the survivors who chose to participate during the “Speak Out” session, and for those observing the event, Berg said “Take Back the Night” can be emotionally draining.

As a survivor, Garritty said speaking during the event was meaningful and helpful.

“At first I didn’t feel comfortable talking, but being in a room full of other people that were so brave and able to get on the stage and tell everyone their story was really empowering for me and my healing process,” Garritty said.

In the future, Berg said the “Speak Out” session and the march might occur on different nights of the week to spread out the events so individuals do not have to worry about being emotionally worn out while marching around campus.

Johnson said the event inspired her to become more involved with advocacy.

“It empowered me to do more and actually help and take a class next semester to become a trained advocate in the RE Initiative,” Johnson said.

Starting last year, RE Initiative, a student club dedicated to preventing gender-based violence, and other peer advocates established different events to help the students alleviate the extra stress and anxiety. Johnson said this service was offered during the “Speak Out” session as well.

“We had a safe space in the Greek council office so if survivors needed anything, they could talk to an advocate from the Women’s Resource Center or other trained advocates,” Johnson said.

As Winona State continues to confront gender-based violence, Berg said she would like to establish a safe space on campus for survivors to find resources.

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