Members of the Columbia and Barnard community expressed the need for an intersectional approach to sexual assault and sexual violence on campus at the annual Take Back the Night rally on Low steps and following speak-out at Barnard on Friday evening.
Take Back the Night was founded on Barnard’s campus in 1988 as an annual march around Morningside Heights advocating for the creation of a support system for survivors of sexual assault on campus, and over 300 people attended its first event. In 2017, the march was changed into a rally with a speak-out due to the need for a police escort to march around the area. Over the years, attendance has dwindled, and only about 20 students attended the rally this year.
The event was sponsored by the Governing Board at Barnard, Sexual Violence Response, and Nightline, which remained open until 5 a.m. on Friday morning rather than its usual 3 a.m. hours in solidarity with Take Back the Night. Activists and administrators, such as Cristen Kennedy, program coordinator of Being Barnard, attended and spoke at the rally and speak-out. Many speakers focused on the culture that engenders sexual violence and leads to its normalization.
“With tonight’s rally we are going to bring with us the intention of what it actually means to physically take up space on a campus that does everything it can to suppress this kind of conversation and these kinds of voices from being heard,” Marina Levy, BC ’20 and co-president of Take Back the Night, said before leading the call-and-response chant, “Shatter the silence, stop the violence.”
The event acknowledged the intersectional nature of protest culture at Columbia, particularly noting the importance of acknowledging the University’s colonial history.
“I want to recognize that we are on the Indigenous land of Lenape people. We want to be grateful for the right to educate and protest on land that is not ours and that was taken from them. We are unwelcome visitors on this land,” Levy said before beginning to lead chants about putting an end to sexual violence on campus.
Levy and Rosie Ryan, BC ’20 and the other co-president of Take Back the Night, also turned the protestors toward Butler Library during the rally and asked the group to think about how the culture at Columbia would be different if the names carved into the library were “people who focused on building community.”
“Aristotle hated women!” one student shouted through a megaphone during this portion of the rally, bringing significant attention to the students gathered on the Steps.
Ryan also emphasized that the history of Take Back the Night situates the organization as one on campus that values both building community and advocating for what students need.
“We started with the University saying that there was no need for a rape crisis center, that there were no rapes on campus,” Ryan said. “We have all of these resources now. That’s what makes this rally and speak-out so unique; we’re meeting students where they are, continuing to shift to meet their needs. We offer opportunities for students to feel heard and seen regardless of who they know or who they are.”
In light of the low attendance at this year’s event, Levy and Ryan cited logistical issues, but also pointed to a shift within the community of survivors on campus that focuses only on building community as opposed to bringing attention to the pervasiveness of sexual violence on campus.
“We’re seeing a Columbia community that is saturated with events, but we’re also seeing that the march has always been about calling attention,” Levy said. “There aren’t people who are planning what to do next, so I think that the rally is important, but less people coming this year means that we need to build more community and educational systems. It’s sad, but it reflects a shift.”