By Josie Gereszek
An annual event which has worked nationally to confront sexual and domestic violence since the 1970s returns to campus next week.
The Women’s Center, women’s and gender studies, and the Campus Feminist Organization are sponsoring MSUM’s annual Take Back The Night rally on Sept. 18. The event includes a BBQ, starting at 5 p.m., music, speakers, and ends with a march around campus.
Take Back the Night is organized to bring intersectional identities together to address the personal experience of rape and other forms of sexual assault, as well as the role sexual violence maintains in institutional and cultural settings.
“I would really like to stress the fact that rape is not an isolated incident, it is embedded in our culture,” said Jennifer Seviour, event organizer and Campus Feminist Organization member. “Rape culture exists and it’s perpetuating itself and we have to interrupt it.”
A recently reported rape on campus has been sparking conversation about the issue of sexual violence and Take Back the Night aims to discuss the ways the campus community can prevent similar situations.
Seviour said she hopes the event will highlight Anne Blackhurst’s promise to create a coordinated, collaborative, and sustained effort to interrupt rape culture on campus. There are plans to display a poster at the rally where students will be able to write comments and ideas they have to confront sexual violence at MSUM.
The rally will have numerous speakers, including Dee Dushane, matriarch of Tri State Transgender and Lynn Peterson, coordinator for sexual assault services at Hendrix Health. Attendees will also see performances by Diversity Dance Crew, Diane Miller, and ska outfit No Thumbs Up.
“Take Back the Night really embodies what feminism is all about. It’s putting theory into practice – the theory and firm understanding that we need to interrupt oppression and oppression of women,” Seviour said. “This is an action that we take in making that happen.”
The event is a coordinated effort between MSUM, NDSU and the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, despite the organizations hosting independent rallies throughout the FM community. Coordinators will encourage attendees to use the hashtag #FMTBTN to connect across the different locations.
“The hope is to have media coverage in all three places so that people can see there’s a unified movement to address violence against women, rape, and sexual assault,” Seviour said. “It’s unified, but it’s all over, I think is the best way to think of it.”
Events like these also help to discuss what is often the root of the problem.
“We need to start talking about how we are socialized into this entitlement to women’s bodies from a very young age, and we need to start interrupting that and have conversations about it and have workshops about rape culture,” Seviour said.
Seviour added that for many, there’s a misunderstanding of what consent actually means – that consent is an affirmative statement rather than a lack of dissent.
“We live in this idea that you dissent from unwanted contact. You say no, but really we should focus on saying yes before anything happens,” Seviour said. “We should live in a consent culture, not a ‘dissent at the moment’ culture.”
Coordinators hope the event will further planning for the implication of programs on campus for both faculty and students. Another Campus Feminist Organization member, Kate Lucero, mentioned one that may be in the works.
“We’ve been talking about having some colloquial workshops on consent, even around things like hugging, in the Women’s Center because sometimes people will do things that don’t seem like abuse, like touching somebody when they say they don’t want it,” Lucero said.
Seviour said brainstorming about potential programs is especially important considering that as of yet it is still unclear exactly what educational opportunities Blackhurst plans to offer regarding rape and consent.
She added that although First Year Experience professors have been discussing issues regarding rape culture in light of the recently reported sexual assault on campus, they may remain somewhat unsure about what should specifically be addressed.
“I think teachers and faculty members as well as students need to go through training on how to address sexual assault because I’m not entirely sure that every faculty member grasps the severity of the issue,” Lucero said.
Take Back the Night promises to be an opportunity for students and faculty alike to address what changes they’d like to see implemented to interrupt rape culture on campus. The event will take place Thursday, Sept. 18 from 5-9 p.m. on the Campus Mall.