A march for safety, intersectionality, and empowerment
Students gathered in person on April 7 for the annual Take Back the Night march across campus, where they protested sexual violence and supported one another while highlighting intersectionality and accessibility.
On Thursday, April 7, Brandeis’ Take Back the Night returned as an in-person event for the first time since 2019. A global movement with a long history, Take Back the Night is an annual stand against sexual violence which has taken place all over the world for decades, and has been held on campus for over 15 years. Hosted as a collaborative event by the Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center; the Intersectional Feminist Coalition; the Black Action Plan; the Gender and Sexuality Center; the Disabled Students’ Network; and students from other organizations, the event began as an evening march from the Light of Reason to the Rabb steps.
Prior to the start of the march, representatives from the groups spoke to the crowd of attendees about Take Back The Night’s history and significance.
From Rabb, attendees marched to Skyline to gather in two discussion spaces; one dedicated to self-preservation and reflection and the other to action.
“The shift from Zoom to in person really opened up our choices during planning,” Priya Sashti ’24, one of the Take Back The Night co-organizers representing PARC, wrote in an April 8 email correspondence with the Justice. “We ended up choosing an all in-person format to honor the original purpose of Take Back the Night, as a march through campus.”
Sashti explained that the event existed on campus long before PARC was established in 2015. Although documentation of when the first Take Back the Night event was held at Brandeis is not available online, according to a Justice article from 2004, it appears that the protest occurred on campus as early as 2000. “In doing research on Take Back the Night’s history at Brandeis, I was in awe [of] the innovation and perseverance of this event,” Sashti said.
Take Back the Night has international origins but first emerged in its current form on college campuses in the 1970s, following nightly marches by students calling for a women’s center at the University of Southern Florida. From there, students and communities across the country took a stand against sexual assult and sexual violence through rallies and protests.
Take Back the Night as a movement calls for exactly what its name proclaims: a world where vulnerable groups are able to walk alone at night without the fear of sexual assault or violence of any kind.
According to the 2019 Campus Climate Survey, 10% of men, 21% of women, and 36% of gender nonconforming students have experienced sexual assault since becoming a student at Brandeis. “We recognize that Brandeis University’s own perception and data on campus violence doesn’t encompass the true scope of this disproportionate violence,” Lauren Formanski ’22, a co-organizer representing PARC, said. “Until recently, the Office of Equal Opportunity was housed near East, effectively in a ditch that was incredibly inaccessible to physically disabled students.”
PARC co-organizers also sought to highlight the importance of intersectionality within modern Take Back The Night events. “We’d like to acknowledge that Take Back the Night originated during what some would call ‘Second Wave Feminism,’ a period of the feminist movement that was dominated by white women and neglected both women of color and the violence experienced by other individuals, including trans folks,” PARC peer advocate and Take Back the Night co-organizer Vidushi Poddar ’24 said during a statement given prior to the march at the Light of Reason. “In this way, Take Back the Night has historically perpetrated violence in its pursuit to raise awareness and action against violence.”
Sashti emphasized the role that student-based clubs and organizations outside of PARC had in activism crucial to advancing inclusion in Take Back The Night. “We want to acknowledge the Black Action Plan, a group of students who have tirelessly joined together to fight for institutional changes within Brandeis,” she said, adding, “Their demands include critically reimagining the policing, [Department of] Community Living, [Brandeis] Counseling Center, and various other Brandeis affiliated centers in the efforts to transform Brandeis into an anti-racist community on all levels of power.”
She also spoke about DSN, a new club that focuses on disability justice in the form of advocacy and community-building. “We want to amplify the work of The Disabled Students Network, both with Take Back the Night and generally at Brandeis,” Sashti said. “The DSN provides a community for disabled students at Brandeis while also emphasizing social justice and activism in their efforts to push back against ableism.”
DSN set up a table with free items for attendees to aid the march’s accessibility. The table contained earplugs, flashlights, and fidgets, as well as Take Back the Night t-shirts.
“Brandeis’ campus is pretty inaccessible,” DSN treasurer Jonathan Kelly ’23 said. “We did everything in our power to make the march as accessible as possible for anyone who wanted to come.”
DSN led the action room. There, members of the group hosted multiple stations that used fully accessible videos and text to spotlight a first-person account from a disabled individual on their process of navigating ableism, violence, and healing. The action room also contained an interactive bulletin board where students could post reflections, reactions, and thoughts about the content of the different stations and the event as a whole.
The self-preservation and reflection room, which was co-facilitated by all of the event organizers, included a writing-prompt reflection station, a meditation station, an art station, and a phone cleansing station where attendees could “clean up some of the digital mess that we all have stored in our phones,” Kelly explained in an April 11 email correspondence with the Justice. The two rooms were not open to members of the press.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, these rooms have become a crucial part of Brandeis’s Take Back the Night. “Before the pandemic, Take Back the Night only included an in-person march and a reflection space, where individuals impacted by sexual violence could reflect on their experiences and share with the community,” Alison Hagani ’22, a Take Back the Night co-organizer representing PARC, said in an April 9 email interview with the Justice. “We realized, however, that there are many people who do not resonate with this kind of community healing for myriad reasons, including disinterest and a lack of trust.”
She explained that providing a space that focuses specifically on action, as well as one for reflection and sharing, is something that Brandeis’ Take Back the Night organizers have focused on in recent years, “Many individuals, especially those impacted by sexual violence, project their experiences into action; their survivorship is often inextricably linked to a desire to use their own insights as a call to action.”
Hagani explained that last year’s event marked the first time an action room was incorporated into Brandeis’ rendition of Take Back the Night. “Last year, we were fortunate to have the Black Action Plan lead the action room, [and] the Disabled Students Network [is facilitating] the action space this year,” Hagani said. “These two organizations so beautifully exemplify the role action plays as a form of community healing.”
Finally returning to its traditional in-person format after two years, while simultaneously incorporating important new elements, this year’s Take Back the Night served as a space for Brandeis community members to express solidarity and resilience in the face of violence. The event highlighted the work being done by student activists to push for intersectionality within Take Back The Night and beyond the protest.
Looking towards the future of the yearly event, Sashti said, “We hope to continue to expand our ideas of what forms of healing and empowerment Take Back the Night can embody.”