On Thursday April 20 student organizers and Brandeis community members gathered at the Rabb steps to commence the annual “Take Back the Night” march through campus — an event “intended to raise awareness about sexual violence, [empower] one another, and [show] solidarity with, or as, individuals impacted by violence,” as explained by event facilitator Priya Sashti ’24. This event was organized by students of the Prevention, Advocacy, and Resource Center, the Department of Sociology, the Jewish Feminist Association at Brandeis, and other affiliated groups. 

The TBTN movement is the oldest global effort to stand against sexual violence in any and all forms. It has a rich history of women who have stood together and demanded justice for those who do not have the privilege of feeling safe in public spaces. In the evening’s opening remarks, co-organizer Rachel Judson ’23 delineated some of the movement’s history, explaining that some records suggest that this tradition can be traced as far back as the 1800s when women in England marched together in protest against sexual violence in the nighttime. Judson acknowledged that the tradition originates from the era of Second Wave Feminism, a period of the feminist movement that largely neglected women of color and otherwise-affected individuals. Today, the constituents of this global effort have expanded, now welcoming people of all identities.

In honor of the historic stand taken by those who first advocated for the right to be able to exist without fear of physical danger, Brandeis survivors and allies rallied together Thursday evening and marched through campus. The march began at the base of the Rabb steps, where students were able to take fidget toys and water bottles, which is an aspect of the event advocated for by the Disabled Students Network. Participants also carried LED candlesticks, teal awareness ribbons, and posters as they walked together. After looping around the Shapiro Campus Center, participants reached the end of their route at the Light of Reason. 

TBTN facilitators placed great emphasis on participants staying vigilant about their emotional wellness throughout the course of the event and being unafraid to do whatever suits their needs. Three trained and confidential peer advocates of PARC were present to walk students to the PARC office and provide support either during or after the march if need be. Organizer Maya Ungar ’24 encouraged participants to march in silence to foster a sense of reflection, community, and safety in reclaiming the night. 

After the protesters reached the Light of Reason, attendees were given the option to follow the event coordinators to the Hassenfeld Conference Center for a private, attendee-only space focused on self-preservation and education on activism. The self-preservation space was dedicated to personal reflection, with tables of art supplies as well as supplies for self-care bags. The activism space comprised different tables where attendees could learn about the various avenues of activism, along with information and resources that can get them involved with the anti-sexual violence movement. 

In their introductory speech, student organizers stressed the importance of recognizing intersectionality within the anti-violence movement, especially given the fact that at Brandeis Black women, students of color, trans folks, students with disabilities, and gender-nonconforming students experience sexual violence at disproportionately higher rates, according to the 2022 Campus Climate Survey. The team expressed their commitment to holding space for those disproportionately affected by sexual violence and the ways in which their intersecting identities place them under greater risk. 

They proceeded to note that known data does not reflect the actual number of those who have experienced sexual assault, as survivors often choose not to report their experiences for reasons that include, but are not limited to, “fear of retaliation, of not being believed, and distrust of institutions that have continuously perpetrated violence.”

Some students may want to report their assault but do not have access to the necessary resources or are unable to speak out on their own terms. For instance, the student speakers explained that the Office of Equal Opportunity was previously located in East Quad, which used to be a hindrance to many students because the quad is highly inaccessible to students with disabilities. The speakers also emphasized that the OEO is currently located in the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center, which presents its own set of complications — Berstein-Marcus also houses many upper-level administrators’ offices, which might discourage students from visiting OEO and thus restricting overall accessibility to this resource.

The community members that took part in the 2023 TBTN marched and gathered together to recognize the prevalence of sexual violence on campus and the importance of all the student activists working to combat it.