Nighttime March on Campus Spreads Sexual Assault Awareness

Rebekah Ward

On Monday, April 5, students walking into Frank Dining Hall post dinner-rush looked on quizzically as a steadily growing group of students and faculty pooled on the front walkway. Those who delayed their meals long enough witnessed a rare Colgate occurrence: a hundred-some women and men were getting ready to participate in an activist march. They were all preparing for Colgate’s version of “Take Back the Night,” an international event that highlights the experiences of victims of rape and sexual violence.

In the initial address to the group, sophomore and event leader Dena Robinson explained that the event was started in Belgium in 1976. Although it has changed somewhat over the years, “Today, the purpose of the speak out is to provide victims and survivors the opportunity to speak out about their experiences and […] publicly affirm their transition from victim to survivor,” Robinson said.

After this introduction, the eclectic group of students snaked their way down the hill towards the Village Green, stopping once in a while to listen to a presentation by a group member. Along the way they shouted chants, interspersed with cheers whenever their chanting voices began to falter.

One unexpected speaker was junior Ethan Levitt, present to represent Men at Colgate, who stated that when he had been asked to speak he had at first been confused about the “Take Back the Night” concept.

“I didn’t know that men had taken the night to begin with,” Levitt said. But his final message was powerful and appropriate: “We must all make an effort to talk with each other and not at each other,” Levitt said.

The large party did not fail to elicit reactions from bystanders. It contained the entire spectrum of female students at Colgate, accompanied by some adults and brave college boys, with one Campus Safety officer, who even offered himself up as crossing guard when the group reached Broad Street, bringing up the rear.

As the group looped through Hamilton, it was met with everything from whistles, cheers and honks of support to confused stares and insulting comments. A few shouts of support from female students from open windows were accompanied many blank stares from the front yards of fraternity houses. On the Village Green, a gathering of about ten townspeople met the group. Perhaps the most dramatic response was the shouting that flew from a West Hall window as the group passed by on the way to its O’Connor Campus Center (Coop) destination: “You’re making me horny!” and “Shut the hell up!”

“The Network is a [Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education] COVE group that educates people about domestic violence, sexual assault and relationship abuse by organizing events, training hotline volunteers, hosting brown bags, fundraising, etc.” senior and co-leader of the group Courtney Walsh said, describing the group that had organized the event.

Walsh is passionate about women’s issues and channels this passion into her studies and extracurricular involvement.

“I think we all have a responsibility to each other and everyone’s well-being,” Walsh said.

“I’m really excited about how we did the event this year. It was the biggest it’s been since I’ve been here, by far,” Walsh said. She is also excited about how there was an effort to get both men and the larger Hamilton community to get involved this year.

Though these groups were not as well represented as they could have been, those who did come appreciated the experience. Senior Naledi Semela is a member of Brothers who shared an original poem during one of the procession’s pit stops.

“I think that we made a strong statement by marching through town. I commend the organizers and their efforts to galvanize students for this very important cause,” Semela said.

For many participants, however, the most powerful part of the night was not the public protest, but the post-walk speak out held in the Coop TV room. Hot cocoa and cookies were waiting for the protesters, and chairs were placed in a circle. Terica Adams, another Network leader, proposed a pass-the-pillow approach to the group discussion.

Behind a pulled curtain, in the safe company of supporters of every shape, size, sex and ethnicity, survivors and sympathizers shared personal and often emotional experiences with sex crimes.

“The speak out was a really safe and open space for people to talk,” first-year Diana Stephens said. This final exchange punctuated the event with a meaningful discourse and a reminder of the reality of issues at the heart of the evening’s protest.