Tuesday marked one of my favorite events at JMU: Take Back the Night, a night when JMU students, faculty and staff gather in Grafton-Stovall Theater to support survivors of sexual violence. TBTN was an evening filled with performances from a cappella groups, spoken word poetry pieces, a keynote speech from writer/activist/feminist extraordinaire Wagatwe Wanjuki, a “Speak Out” portion where survivors could anonymously share their story, and a candlelit march through campus.
Sounds like an amazing opportunity for survivors and supporters of sexual violence prevention to gather and take a stand, right? And we can all agree that campus sexual violence is a huge issue that directly affects us as JMU students and faculty, right? And that survivors of sexual violence deserve all the love and support in the world, right? RIGHT. So…why was Grafton half-empty at TBTN last night? Let’s explore some seemingly common reasons.
“Well, maybe people didn’t know about it?”
JMU’s Take Back the Night is all over social media, from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram. The event has also been covered by The Breeze, sent out in a mass email, and advertised for on the Commons. Although we are inundated with campus event notifications as JMU students, the TBTN coalition event staff covered all of their bases in numerous advertising venues. Plus, the issue of sexual assault has been a hot button issue in the mainstream media for the last few years. JMU students are very cognizant of the word and would most likely pay attention to events that dealt with the issue.
“I went!…for a Passport Event.”
I definitely understand the point of Passport Events: to broaden the student’s scope of emotional, health, and spiritual wellness. And I understand the point of making TBTN a passport event: many people who wouldn’t normally attend went that night and became aware of the issue in a whole new way. Keynote speaker Wagatwe Wanjuki was the portion of the evening that was a Passport Event, and there were roughly 100 people there during that portion. Awesome. But as soon as she was finished speaking, the room cleared out exponentially, leaving roughly 40 people in the room for the “Speak Out” portion. The “Speak Out” is by far the most powerful and important part of the event, and to see so many people fulfill their requirements and leave was extremely disheartening (not to mention the a cappella group that came in 30 minutes late to the start of the event and left right after their performance).
“I care about ending sexual assault, I just didn’t go to this event.”
I think any educated individual can tell you that sexual assault is bad, and that we as a community should do everything we can to end it. However, understanding that sentiment is just one step. You must live out the mission to end sexual violence, and that starts by showing up. Caring means attending, engaging and learning about the issue, then spreading that awareness to others. Not attending and not learning prevents that sharing of knowledge.
A quote from psychologist Judith Herman sums up my feelings nicely:
“It’s very easy to side with the perpetrator…all they ask from us is our silence.”
The tagline of Take Back The Night is “Break the Silence” surrounding sexual violence and by not attending TBTN, you are tacitly complying with the silence. Let’s start breaking that silence and holding people accountable to doing so.