This Monday night, a group of students, faculty and administrators gathered at the Rabb steps for Brandeis’ annual Take Back the Night (TBTN) event, during which students march through and stop at three residence quads and the Shapiro Campus Center, sharing personal stories standing in solidarity against on-campus sexual violence and assault.
The event was sponsored by a multitude of campus groups, including Students Talking About Relationships (STAR), Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA), Women of Color Alliance (WOCA), the Brandeis Rape Crisis Center (RCC) and the Queer Resource Center (QRC). Moderators included RCC Student Coordinator and Brandeis Students Against Sexual Violence (BSASV) member Evelyn Milford ’16 and Brandeis Sexual Assault and Prevention specialist Sheila McMahon. Interim President Lisa Lynch, Senior Vice President of Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel and Dean of Students Jamele Adams were among the administrators present as well.
Chanting “two-four-six-eight, stop the violence, stop the rape,” and more slogans, the group drew students to their windows to watch and listen. This year, most students did not share personal stories along the route, but there was a private event held in Spingold Theater at the end of the night. During the march, organizers read aloud testimonies from Take Back the Night’s national database, and marchers read aloud from small pieces of paper bearing statistics about sexual violence. Two students spoke, but one asked their remarks be off the record.
Last year, The Justice newspaper’s article on TBTN featured quotes from speakers. The article was criticized by the event’s organizers and student activists after several of those quoted raised the complaint that they had been recorded and quoted by campus media without their knowledge or consent. In response, this year organizers passed out index cards to students with a statement prefacing any story shared as off the record. “We regret that we cannot guarantee confidentiality,” Milford said as the cards were given out. Marchers were made aware of the presence of campus media at the beginning of the event, as well as at each stop.
In a front-page editorial, The Justice stressed they had the right to quote speakers at a public event. “The heart of Take Back The Night is hearing individuals talk about their own experiences of sexual assault…Any reporting that does not acknowledge these speakers and their stories fails to adequately capture what is at the crux of the event,” the editorial reads.
When the march portion ended outside the Spingold Theater, attendees went inside the Merrick Theater to share experiences in a private and media-free space. “It was certainly different than previous years, where there is no inside portion because of a reasonable expectation of privacy and confidentiality during TBTN,” said BSASV member Angela Acevedo Bustamante ’16. “Last year in particular was the biggest group we had in my time at Brandeis, and the march was 2.5 hours long because numerous people shared at every quad, and there were more stops at which to share.”
Last year, Bustamante voiced student concerns around the issue of combating sexual violence when she spoke as the head of BSASV activists entering a Board of Trustees meeting. Today, she and her fellow activists are just as focused and dedicated to combating sexual violence and advocating for survivors. Bustamante, given what she calls “last year’s gross lack of respect for the nature of the space” by campus media, sees this year’s silence as a reaction to the inappropriate way sexual assault is handled at Brandeis at large. “I wasn’t shocked at all that only two people shared during the march portion,” she said. At the moment, there have been no announcements as to whether or not future TBTN events will become more or fully private. But given the extreme sensitivity surrounding TBTN and the crimes it protests, activists like Acevedo hope that Brandeis, in particular campus newspapers, “would be so kind” as to respect the decisions they feel are now necessary to preserve the event at all.