On Wednesday evening, hundreds of students, survivors, and supporters gathered on O’Neill Plaza for “Take Back the Night”-a night of awareness, support, and solidarity for those affected by rape and sexual assault. “Take Back the Night,” a nationally recognized event that began in 1978, was a part of Concerned About Rape Education (C.A.R.E.) Week, hosted annually by the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) in conjunction with numerous other campus organizations.
C.A.R.E. Week is a week of programming dedicated to fostering discussion and education on sexual assault and intimate partner violence within the Boston College community. The week consists of events that raise awareness about sexual assault while creating a community of support and solidarity for sexual assault survivors. The programming addresses a plethora of topics surrounding the issue of sexual assault, including the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, the definition of consent, the ways to navigate unhealthy relationships, the resources available to sexual assault survivors, the stigma associated with survivors of sexual assault, and bystander education.
The aim of “Take Back the Night” is to create a community of support among students, united through shared solidarity for those affected by sexual assault. The event brings together students and faculty-men and women alike-to hear the inspiring stories of survival from students who were victims of sexual assault.
The event commenced with a performance from student a cappella group, the BC Sharps, followed by an introduction and brief history of the event given by representatives from the WRC.
The event’s featured speaker was faculty member Regine Jean-Charles, an assistant professor in the romance languages and literatures and the African and African diaspora studies departments.
Jean-Charles recently published a book that addresses violence toward women in Francophone Africa, entitled Conflict Bodies: The Politics of Rape Representation in the Francophone Imaginary. She is also a board member, lecturer, and performer for A Long Walk Home, Inc., a non-profit organization that uses visual and performing arts to end violence against women and girls.
“My academic research, my activism, my personal life, and my politics have been informed and defined by the struggle to end sexual violence,” Jean-Charles said.
Jean-Charles began her speech with a powerfully emotional rendition of the poem “Do You Know What Rape Feels Like,” composed by her friend and colleague. The poem is a part of the show, “Story of a Rape Survivor” (SOARS), a multimedia arts performance by A Long Walk Home, Inc. “SOARS tells one woman’s story about how she reclaimed her body, her sexuality, and her self-esteem after being sexually assaulted in college,” Jean-Charles said. “It was through this poem, written by my friend, that I became involved with the movement to end sexual violence.
“What began as a poem written in one woman’s journal became a movement to end sexual violence, a movement to help survivors,” Jean-Charles said. “I share this with you today because it speaks to the importance of how student initiatives can impact individuals.”
Jean-Charles continued her speech by noting the prevalence of rape and sexual assault on college campuses. One in five college students is sexually assaulted, a number higher than any other group, which makes the issue of sexual assault one especially relevant to students.
Noting the significance of the event, Jean-Charles called for the continued active participation of students in the ongoing movement to end sexual violence.
“Today, over three decades since it began, all over the country on college campuses, people are taking back the night,” Jean-Charles said. “People are breaking silences, speaking their stories, taking steps towards healing, committing themselves to eradicating gender violence, sexual violence, violence against women and men.”
The event was culminated when two students affected by rape and sexual assault shared their stories of survival in front of their peers.
“Tonight our BC community has the opportunity to voice what might otherwise be experiences left in silence and in the shadows, and to break that silence by publicly denouncing sexual and intimate partner violence,” Jean-Charles said.
The event continued with a discussion on the meaning of consent, given by three representatives from BC’s Freshman League-they defined sexual consent as an explicit, non-presumptuous, educated, and verbal agreement between two parties. The discussion ended with the Men’s Pledge, for which the men in attendance gathered at the stage, vowing to be active participants in ending sexual assault and violence against women.
Following the pledge, Andrea Giancarlo, CSOM ’15, and Joey Palomba, A&S ’15, discussed the importance of bystander education. Ines Maturana Sendoya, director of the Office of AHANA Student Programs (OASP), discussed the resources available to students through the Sexual Assault Network (SANet).
The event concluded with each person in attendance receiving a glow stick, symbolizing the efforts of individuals coming together to break the silence surrounding the issue of sexual violence by “lighting up” in support of survivors.
“Student activism has been, and will always be, crucial to sustaining this movement towards disrupting silence of this issues,” Jean-Charles said. “Regardless of your situation, I hope that listening to these stories allows you to see yourself as someone who can take part in an ongoing historical movement to eradicate sexual violence and to be an agent of transformation against rape culture.”