Tonight, retiring Barnard political theory professor Dennis Dalton will march in the anti-violence demonstration Take Back the Night for the last time after more than a decade of involvement, a farewell he discusses with teary eyes. But this year, he will participate in the march's entire duration—something that he and all other men were not previously allowed to do.
The Columbia and Barnard chapter of Take Back the Night started in 1988 as an all-women march of 200 and has grown steadily since. Yet Dalton, among others, remained distressed that men, who are both allies against assault and survivors of it, could not support the women marching.
"From the time that we had started discussion on Take Back The Night [in the late 1980s] and it became clear that the women were going to march alone, with the men not involved at all, I expressed outrage in class that the men should be excluded," Dalton said. "I have a firm belief in integration, and inclusion, and therefore I feel that it's important for men and women from the outset to march together." His sentiments were echoed in Spectator editorials and op-ed submissions throughout the 1990s.
During the 1990s, following the 1991 formation of the student group Columbia Men Against Violence, men could join the women in the middle of the march. During the first stage of the demonstration, the men would meet to participate in a discussion about sexual violence.
Stephanie Davidson, CC '08 and TBTN co-organizer, said that so many men attended the CMAV meeting before the 2007 march that the group only had time to introduce themselves before joining the women. To many, allowing men and women to march together seemed a natural growth for the burgeoning movement.
Davidson attributed the rise in male participation to work done by Health Services' Asere Bello in helping to destigmatize the issue of men's involvement in sexual violence. Bello is the director of Men's Peer Education Program, a branch of Health Services that offers educational events to prevent and help men cope with sexual and relationship violence. A Federal Bureau of Investigation report in 1997 showed that seven percent of all American men are sexually assaulted.
Nicholas Bergson-Shilcock, CMAV co-president, said that integration of men and women during the entirety of the march is a trial run this year. "It's an experiment, we haven't decided to commit ourselves forever to it," he explained. "We're trying it this year with some reservations, because it is such a gendered crime. Everyone is comfortable with trying it this year."
Linnea Hincks, CC '10 and TBTN co-organizer, said tonight's pilot program was brought on by years of dialogue and fresh leadership. She said the new format will not hurt women who believe that walking with men inhibits the "safe space" associated with TBTN, since a women-only section will lead the march.
"We're not only including men this year because they feel alienated," Hincks said. "It's also that we recognize that men are survivors of sexual assault—not at all to the same extent that women are, but we don't want to exclude anybody from being in our space."
The organizers say the new format represents increased awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual violence. "We can acknowledge the fact that sexual violence is statistically a gendered crime, while still saying we want to recognize that there are so many male allies and so many male survivors," Davidson said. "Then it's more powerful to stand together against it [sexual violence] as a group."