If you see hundreds of silent students and faculty members marching and holding signs near the Marshall Student Center (MSC) tonight, don’t be alarmed.
Take Back the Night, an annual event sponsored by the student organization NITE (Network. Improve. Transform. Empower), will include a silent march across campus, a candlelight vigil and speeches given by survivors of sexual violence.
“This event actually changed my life,” said Eileen Dabrowski, a faculty adviser for NITE ¬who has been involved with the group for all of its nine years on campus.
In those nine years, NITE has sponsored a number of events that focus on solutions to and awareness of gender-based and sexual violence, such as Take Back the Night, which originated in the 70s.
“Take Back the Night started as a campaign … from the feminist movement,” Dabrowski said. “At the time, that was geared on the premise of women literally taking back the night.”
Over the years, the event has become an international campaign to encompass any type of violence oppressing a human.
The main event will be the Speak Out that allows survivors to get up and tell their story — in some cases, for the first time.
“It sounds like it should be such a downer — like, here’s a bunch of people talking about really bad things that have happened,” Dabrowski said. “But every person who speaks in their own voice and terms says, ‘This horrible thing happened to me, but I’m here, and I’m strong, and it doesn’t define who I am.’”
The Speak Out, she said, has a way of bringing people together. By the end, strangers share tissues.
Particularly moving are the statistics they will reveal at the event. For example, Dabrowski said, one in four young women experience an attempted or completed rape while in college.
As another component of the event, the candlelight vigil will be a way to remember those who have fallen victim to sexual or domestic violence.
In addition to the Speak Out, there will be a silent march across campus. Participants have held signs with messages like “Real Men Get Consent!” and “No Means No!”
The march will begin 6:30 p.m. in the MSC Amphitheatre, continue through the trellises leading to the Allen Building, left toward the Leroy Collins Garage, and back to MSC through the Student Services Building (SVC) Breezeway.
“All of our advocates will be there to support anybody who is triggered,” she said. “We’ll have advocates from the USF counseling center.”
The event is also designed to benefit those who take something away from it, whether it’s catharsis or understanding.
“Sexual violence is an issue that the White House now has a statement about — the It’s On Us campaign,” Dabrowski said. “And universities and colleges, USF being one of them, are stepping up and recognizing that we need to talk about it.”
USF is home to the REAL program, which is a program dedicated to educating all people about ending sexual and gender-based violence. It also strives to educate students on alcohol and consent.
During the event, participants will be asked to take the REAL (Relationship Equality and Anti-violence League) promise.
“(The promise is) to be a good human,” Dabrowski said. “It talks about the behaviors that contribute to harming or oppressing others.”
In the past, Dabrowski said, there have been several hundred people in attendance.
“With Title IX … which now makes mandatory reporting a very big reality for victims who may not want things reported, there’s been a lot of challenges,” Dabrowski said. “Take Back the Night creates a safe place for people to know that they’re not alone, that there’s a lot of support out there and that it’s not their fault.”