Take Back The Night provides unity and community for sexual abuse survivors

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Wellness Center staff prepares to walk banner out during Take Back the Night on April 2. - Managing Editor / Abigail Twiford

Despite the dreary and damp conditions outside, dozens of people made their way out for Take Back The Night on Tuesday, April 2. The Wellness Center’s annual event invites people throughout the Rowan community to come together in support of survivors of sexual or power-based abuse and violence.

The Pit of the Student Center was full of movement and activity. Students, alumni, and faculty milled about the space, talking, writing notes, and making friendship bracelets. Beaded necklaces of either green, orange, or both hung around the necks of all in attendance.

Opening remarks were given by multiple members of the Wellness Center staff who helped create and put on the event.

Allie Pearce, M.A., the assistant director of health innovation and quality assurance within the Wellness Center, gave a welcome message to all in attendance and welcomed Amy Hoch, Psy.D onto the stage. 

Hoch is the assistant director of the Wellness Center. She addressed the crowd and spoke on the vast number of unreported assaults and untold stories and the importance of sharing stories of assault and violence with fellow survivors.

“Every person’s story matters. Whether they say it out loud or whether it stays forever silent in their heart,” said Hoch. 

When Hoch was done, Jean Corcione, the Wellness Center graduate coordinator, got on stage to point out the various tables and activities around the pit.

“I hope that any student that is a survivor that came tonight feels supported and knows that Rowan cares, and the Wellness Center, we care about them. We want them to be seen and heard. I hope that people learn something tonight, like how to be an active bystander, how to be supportive to a friend that might be going through something like this,” said Corcione. 

In case anyone got overwhelmed or needed emotional or mental help through the event, emotional support dogs Lily and Athena from the Shreiber Family Pet Therapy Program were present, as well as several members of the Wellness Center staff, who anyone in need of help or counseling was encouraged to reach out to. 

There were five cardboard cutouts around the space, each in the shape of a woman’s silhouette, with no distinguishing features, just a solid shade of red. Each cutout had a story from an anonymous survivor of sexual or domestic violence or abuse, sharing their own experience, as well as words of advice and encouragement for others to read and gain strength from. On the right shoulder of each silhouette, a pack of sticky notes and a pen was attached, to allow those in attendance to offer their own messages of support and leave them on the cutouts.

The Center for Family Services was at the event, tabling to promote some of their upcoming events and resources for victims and survivors, and asking students to consider volunteering to help with the Services Empowering Rights of Victims (SERV). SERV helps those who have experienced any form of abuse at any point in their lives by offering a 24-hour hotline, counseling, support groups, and advocacy and assistance through the processes of legal reporting or post-assault medical exams.

Jacqueline Melendez is the confidential sexual violence advocate (CSVA) coordinator for the organization.

“It would be great to have students encourage fellow students, empower them in terms of knowing… because sexual violence, domestic violence is like money. Nobody wants to talk about it until they’re affected by it personally, so it’s always to empower themselves, empower others, by knowing the effects and knowing what to do, and knowing where to get the resources, just in case you may know somebody that’s going through that. So it’s always important to be in the know,” said Melendez.

Another table held an area for attendees to make friendship bracelets and add a message or design offering validation and support to the “Take Back The Night” banner. At the same table, two piles of beaded necklaces were available, one green and one orange pile. Green signified the individual was a supporter of those who had endured abuse in some form, orange signified that the individual was a survivor themselves that may have a story they were willing to share. 

Several other campus organizations tabled at the event including Rowan’s police department, Student University Programmers, Prism, the Title IX office, and the Office of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution (SJICR). All of them handed out papers and pamphlets with relevant resources and information, as well as freebies ranging from water bottles to colorful condoms.

Shirley Celi-Landeo is the graduate coordinator in the Office of SJICR.

“I’m excited that people get to be together at an event where you’re supposed to be able to be vulnerable and comfortable to speak about your experiences or just being a supporter,” said Celi-Landeo.

After about an hour of tabling, Wellness Center staff handed out glow sticks and it was announced that the crowd should follow the staff members out of the building for the annual walk that symbolizes taking back the night from sexual violence and abuse. 

As it was still raining, the decision was made to cut the walk short for the sake of those in attendance who chose to brave the wet and slippery conditions, making the walk only a loop around the parking lot next to the Wellness Center and then back into the Student Center. 

Despite the weather, a couple of dozen students still chose to file out to show their support for the cause. 

“Telling one story or listening to a story has an impact. We never know the ripple effect it might have. And so I hope people feel inspired to keep doing something to end sexual violence in the world,” said Hoch. 

When everyone had finished the walk and was once again safely inside the building, an open mic was set up in room 127 for anyone willing to share their stories with others in attendance. 

The moderate size and quiet environment of the room offered survivors a comfortable and calm arena to publically share and process stories of their trauma. 

Isis McRae is a Rowan student who only attended the open mic portion of the evening. The stories shared touched on a wide variety of abuse topics including being sexually assaulted by an intimate partner, legal systems making reporting difficult, dropped cases, having to educate others on nuances of abuse, guilt about not reporting, family division, and what happens when a survivor has positive or romantic feelings for this abuser. 

“The open mic event was a nice way to see that what you go through… you’re not by yourself. Knowing that there are others out there going through similar situations and knowing that we’re all struggling to figure out how to overcome, it is reassuring. It’s a sense of like, ‘okay, I can I can make it one more day,’” said McRae.

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