Students stand together to face their fears, fight the silence and take back the night

Students stand together to face their fears, fight the silence and take back the night

Laura Burt

Silence illuminates the night sky and amplifies the crackling flames in the bonfire pit. A circle of people forms around the fire, as wind and fear will not stop them from their goal: at this moment, they will take back the night.

This was the scene last Wednesday night, April 11, as Guilford students stood together and faced their fears and dark secrets.

The motto, “Stop the violence, break the silence,” has become the rallying call of sexual assault survivors across the country. Men, women and children alike have decided to rise up against stigmas surrounding sexual violence.

“Taking back the night is this phrase that means I am taking back the night from violence, from sexual assault, or just walking home alone at night,” said senior Hannah Early, who helped organize the event this year. “This event is to help people not feel fear, and to take back what is theirs.”

Every April, students all over the country unify around fire pits, in gyms or around memorials, as they remember and speak out against sexual predators. People of all ages share experiences that will always linger.

According to statistics provided by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network , every two minutes someone in the U.S. becomes a victim of sexual assault.

207,754 people endure sexual violence a year. More than half will never report the crime.

This is a problem that the Organization for Sexual Assault Awareness, Support and Advocacy has been trying solve around campus.

The tradition of Take Back the Night continues at Guilford College.

“It’s necessary because sexual violence happens here at Guilford,” said senior and SAASA President Taylor Starns. “There’s a culture of denial here. People think that because they rarely hear about it, that it doesn’t happen. But it does.”

It was SAASA’s goal this year to provide a safe place for people to express themselves and be supported. As students, alumni, and visitors gathered on the steps of Founders Hall, there was certainly the feeling of joyful camaraderie among the students that participated.

The tone became more somber as senior Justin Kirchner stood to address the crowd, and silence followed.

Kirchner spoke about the traumatic and painful assault an 11-year-old girl endured, only to be blamed for allowing the attack to happen. According to event organizers, this type of victim blaming is not unusual.

“We have foisted the responsibility of preventing rape solely on the shoulders of women,” said Kirchner. “However, it is not only women who suffer. There’s this societal idea that men cannot be victims.”

Kirchner urged that those in the crowd look at how they perpetuate the ideas of victim-blaming and shaming, and choose to change.

In the falling twilight, students and guests were each given a lit candle. The procession of two dozen people quieted as they made the slow walk to the bonfire by the lake, already lit and offering comfort.

The Speak Out is a Take Back the Night tradition in which anyone can break the silence in a safe and accepting community. For many, it was both a freeing and painful experience.

As the Speak Out concluded, there was a sense of celebration and unity as new friends settled close to the fire to make s’mores and celebrate their strength, shattering the silence.

“I was really impressed by how the Speak Out went even though I had never been a part of one before, but it felt just right,” said sophomore Cappa Cheatham.

While Take Back the Night was a success, there is still more to be done.

“One night a year is not enough time to deal with this,” said Starns. “We are people: your friends, your family, your peers, and our experiences matter.”