Students stand against sexual violence and Take Back the Night

Photo courtesy of Jennifer French.

On the evening of Thursday, Oct. 14, Ramapo students, faculty and staff joined together with a mission to Take Back the Night: an event that gave community members a safe space to openly discuss the severity of sexual and domestic violence.

Ramapo’s Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) and the Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ Services hosted 2021’s Take Back the Night, which consisted of dinner and survivor stories held in the Alumni Lounges, a march and a concluding vigil. The event was the largest segment of RCNJ’s Violence Awareness Week, which ran from Oct. 11 to Oct. 14. 

Take Back the Night is an international event and non-profit organization — officially formed in March of 1976 — that strives to bring an end to sexual, relationship and domestic violence. It is one of the largest and earliest movements that stands against sexual violence and empowers, supports and gives voices to survivors of abuse. 

“Know that each of us can do something here tonight that will make a difference,” said Marie Danielle Attis, Director of the OVP and Interim Coordinator for the Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ services, in her opening remarks. “I hope you walk away empowered to speak out against rape culture and support any survivor you might know.”

It was a special occasion, as this was Ramapo’s first in-person Take Back the Night since 2019. Attis shared how much commitment her student Violence Intervention Peers (VIPs) had for last year’s, but it was unfortunately unachievable due to the pandemic. 

Attis shared that there were “completely different entities on campus coming together to support such an important mission we have as a community.” 

“It shows you that not only the students are stakeholders in this,” Attis continued. “But that administration sees themselves as stakeholders too, and they are a voice for change.” 

Students, Rick Brown from the Center for Student Involvement, Kate McGee from Title IX, Lisa Sprague from Public Safety and President Cindy Jebb—who arrived in time for the concluding vigil—all were in attendance. 

“Programs like Take Back the Night that connect us to one another and create opportunities for empathy and shared understanding are essential to our health as a community and our betterment as a society,” said President Jebb. 

In the Alumni Lounges, survivors were given the opportunity to share their own stories aloud in a confidential, judgement-free environment. 

After the emotional and brave stories, the march around campus began outside the Student Center. A compact group of both survivors and allies chanted phrases such as: “The time is right / The day is here / Tonight’s the night / We Take Back The Night'' and “Our bodies / Our lives / We will not be compromised” while raising homemade posters.

The march went past Laurel and Pine Halls, through the Village quads and ended at the Arch, where the group gathered into a circle to begin the night’s vigil. 

McGee shared her compassion and pride in Ramapo’s dedication to women, the LGBTQ+ community and survivors. The work and passion among the community is something that has been worked towards for years. 

“It is so much bigger than this moment, it really is the movement,” McGee said. 

Senior journalism student and the Women’s Center’s Trans Outreach Coordinator Kian Concert gave a final speech, highlighting the importance of raising awareness for sexual and domestic violence on college campuses and beyond. 

“I know that we have the empathy that it takes to embrace survivors, and I know that we have the strength needed to change the culture around sexual violence,” Concert, a survivor themselves, said. “I know that we have what it takes to Take Back the Night.”

Proceeding Concert’s speech, McGee instructed participants to pass around a microphone, share a single word this movement made them feel or think, turn on their electric candle light and place it in a circle on the ground.

As the circle beside the Arch reached its final word, candle lights illuminated the presence of Ramapo and survivors, signifying the “hope, strength and resilience” many shared. 

There are various resources available for support and action for survivors or friends and families of sexual or domestic violence survivors. The OVP, Title IX Office, healingSPACE and counseling services are some of the accessible options for members of the Ramapo community.