Fifth Annual Take Back the Night Honors Survivors of Sexual Assault

by Alexa Schmidt & Shannon Gleba, Features Editor & Staff Writer

Manhattan College’s chapter of the national organization, Take Back the Night, hosted their fifth annual event on April 3 in Smith Auditorium. The concept of Take Back the Night started in 1975, and later became a non-profit organization dedicated to ending sexual, relational and domestic violence. The event began with an introduction and welcoming by the Take Back the Night committee who explained the importance of the event.

The committee was led by seniors Brittney Vargas, Samantha Monfils and Eva Pugliese, all of whom have previously taken part in planning the event.

“Take Back the Night has been an extremely important event to me for the past four years,” Vargas said. “Coming together with survivors of sexual assault and being supported by allies has been so empowering and amazing. Through this event, I have found self-love, strength, and compassion for others. I have built unbreakable bonds and I want to thank everyone who has come along with me on this journey.  Thank you for standing up for survivors and working towards putting an end to rape culture,” Vargas said.

After the welcome, spoken word poet Melissa Lozada-Oliva treated the audience to a set of poems. The poems all ranged in style and themes, but all were centered on the experience of women in the modern world.

As an MFA candidate at New York University, Lozada-Oliva has written many poems about the death of singer-songwriter Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. She shared a poem about her experience living in New York and her struggle with anxiety, as well as a poem about what would happen if she got paid for her emotional labor.

The poem started off with all of the ridiculous things she would buy, like colorful wigs and a pony. As the poem went on, it got more emotional.

“If I got paid for all of my emotional labor I would send a thousand rainbow empanadas stuffed with nails to Mike Pence’s house. I would hire an unassuming relatively attractive white man to follow me around so every time you don’t believe me he can just repeat what I said. If I got paid for all of my emotional labor, I would buy my mom a house in a place that smells like oranges. I’d give my Abuelita all of the calling cards I could find. If I had a nickel for every minute I stayed up too late for someone who would never wake up for me, a dollar for every second I spent trying to make a sad man feel less sad, a penny for every time I had to bend and stretch to prove to you that I am here. That I exist. My heart would rattle and shake with all of the coins spilling back into it. I would stop digging around in my pockets for pieces of myself covered in lint. I blew my soul’s piggy bank back together. I give her a kiss, I’d put her back on the shelf. I’d only worry about saving myself. I’d never feel like any of this was my fault or like I owed you one again,” Lozada-Oliva finished.

After participating in an interactive reading of sonnets, the audience was asked to walk to the outside of the auditorium. Then, students Mousa Naji and David Caifa lead the audience in a mindfulness activity for ten minutes. The mindfulness activity required participants to slowly walk the perimeter of the room and call attention to their body movements and thoughts to promote calmness.

The program took a 40 minute break to allow the attendees to speak about their experiences and eat dinner. During the break, participants were invited to enter into a raffle, as well as pick up a tote bag with some products inside that promote healing, like an essential oil roller, lip balm and crystals.

After returning to their seats, Dr. Courtney Bryant approached the microphone to speak about the importance of recognizing trends in sexual violence and advocacy. In addition to teaching courses in the religious studies at the College, Bryant is also an ordained American Baptist minister.

One of the many important topics Bryant spoke about was the injustice women of color face in situations of sexual assault. While black women make up only 13% of the population in the United States, they account for 19% of reported rates. Likewise, she stated that only 5% of rapes and assault in the U.S are reported.

Bryant also spoke on the fact that society’s image of what sexual assault looks like is not always true.

“We imagine that sexual assault only happens to women and girls, particularly those who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whether walking too late in an alleyway, or a dimly lit park. Or being snatched from a car while minding one’s own business,” said Bryant.

“Similarly, the narrative for the kinds of people that engage in sexual violence are seedy, suspicious, evil, degenerate, and even depraved strangers, typically men lurking in the shadows ready to strike at any moment. But we know now that these ideas are in fact incorrect. As are the images in our imaginations that bring these ideas to life. Over the years we have learned that attackers are not so easily discernible with a quick glance or a passing conversation. The truth is, most sexual violence is perpetrated by someone the victim knows.”

After Bryant’s lecture, which spoke to more awareness and mindfulness about the kinds of behavior we engage in, two students from MC’s poetry club bravely shared their poetry about the emotional trauma sexual assault can cause. Juniors Rose Brennan and Rabea Ali shared original works, called “One in Four,” and “Those Brown Eyes,” respectively. Brennan went on to share a monologue performed by singer Halsey at the Women’s March in 2018.

To end the night, the attendees were invited to leave the auditorium to participate in a candlelight vigil held outside on the stairs of the quadrangle. Standing in a solemn circle, the Take Back the Night Committee thanked the crowd for attending and for doing their part to end domestic and sexual violence.