The atmosphere at the Campanile was solemn but filled with hope at the annual Take Back The Night event at Tech on April 1. As the outset of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Take Back The Night serves to educate the Tech community about sexual violence and to support survivors.
Following opening remarks by Meghan Dietrich, one of the event’s student coordinators, graduate and undergraduate students spoke at the podium and read stories from sexual assault survivors in turn. Some students chose to introduce themselves as survivors of sexual assault and share their own experiences, while others wanted to remain anonymous and have their stories read by a volunteer.
The event concluded with a candlelight vigil and a moving performance of “Til It Happens To You” by the campus a cappella group Infinite Harmony.
“I am comfortable talking about my story, and I feel that talking about my experience empowers other survivors to come forward and seek help for what they’ve gone through. I found that the #MeToo movement was really powerful for me, and I want other survivors to feel that as well,” said first-year ME Morgan Biagioni, who spoke at the event.
This year marked the 25th anniversary of Take Back The Night at Tech. Supporting survivors and creating a space to allow them to share their stories is a priority for the campus community, and students are eager to see the movement continue to flourish on campus.
“I’ve gone to [Take Back The Night] three times in my Tech career. This event serves to remind me that, no matter what, if a sexual assault survivor tells you their story, you have to believe them and support their decision on how to move forward. It’s always a bit somber, and I get emotional and inspired by the strength the survivors have by telling their story and their journey of healing,” said fourth-year BMED Aileen Suarez.
The event was organized by the Women’s Resource Center and VOICE, Health Initiatives’ sexual and relationship violence prevention and response initiative.
VOICE provides support and resources to victims of sexual assault, as well as to those supporting survivors, and educates the Tech community about healthy relationships and sexual violence. VOICE advocates were present at the event to speak intermittently to attendees about the work of VOICE and to provide support to speakers and attendees who were affected by the vulnerable, often distressing nature of the experiences that students recounted.
Students who are passionate about ending sexual violence on campus can apply to be VOICE peer educators or request a VOICE presentation for their residence halls, chapters or student organizations on topics ranging from healthy relationships to bystander intervention by visiting healthinitiatives.gatech.edu.
In addition to VOICE, student organizations such as People Against Unwanted Sexual Experiences (PAUSE) and SGA’s Sexual Violence Advisory Board (SVAB) are dedicated to preventing sexual violence and raising awareness of this issue on campus.
“I grew up in a community that almost normalized the concept of sexual violence because everyone thought it was too taboo to discuss or disclose. I’d constantly hear stories of suffering being justified by religion, socialization, politics and occupation. But sexual violence isn’t a political issue; it’s a human rights issue. It’s our job as people, and mine specifically as a peer educator, to ensure everyone’s security and maintain a level of respect in all of our relationships,” said first-year ECON and VOICE peer educator Rupkatha Banerjee. Beyond student organizations, the campus community can have a role in supporting survivors and being part of the solution to end sexual violence.
“If someone tells you about an experience of sexual abuse or assault, just listen to them. Let them cry on your shoulder. Tell them it’s okay, and you believe them. If you hear rumors about what people do sexually, don’t spread them, and tell off the person who spreads them to you. Slut-shaming is never okay, and you never know what someone is going through or whether the rumors are even true. The ones about me certainly weren’t, but they made a horrible situation even worse,” Biagioni said at the event.