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Thursday, May 4, 2017 12:01 am

UIS takes back the night

March and rally raises awareness of sexual violence

Students demonstrate in support of sexual assault awareness at the 10th annual Take Back the Event.
Photo By tSydney Lynne

 

The University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) rallied against sexual violence at the 10th annual Take Back the Night event, held on April 28.

Protesters gathered at the colonnade at 8:30 p.m. to march around campus, followed by a rally at the Lincoln Residence Great Hall.

The event, organized by the UIS Women’s Center and the Department of Residence Life, featured testimonies read by students, faculty and staff.

Campus sexual assault is pervasive. According to a 2015 report by the Association of American Universities, 23.1 percent of female undergraduate students and 5.4 percent of male undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault through violence, physical force or incapacitation.

Lynn Otterson is the director of the UIS Women’s Center, which specializes in providing information and support on a range of gender-related issues, such as sexual violence, harassment, domestic violence and stalking. In an interview, Otterson described how the event was planned. “We’ve had some very successful Take Back the Night events the last three years with big crowds, but I realized that something might have been lost, so we moved to a smaller space,” she said. “I didn’t have a clear plan at the time, but I knew that I wanted to make it more intimate.”

Otterson also wanted to alter the program’s format. “There’s a lot of pain out there right now, and this was not the year to have a Take Back the Night where we told all the terrible stories and the statistics about the harm and the hurt,” she said. “We’re not throwing it away because that still matters, but this year’s program focused on being the change and furthering the healing process.”

Molly Looby, a sophomore from UIS, volunteers at the Women’s Center. Looby said that the event is beneficial in emphasizing that sexual violence is not a surface issue. “There’s a deep, deep root to everything that women suffer from, and it’s not going to be fixed if we focus on one issue such as violence against women,” Looby said. “There needs to be a cultural shift in the thinking of, ‘Oh, I’m a feminist, and I believe in women’s rights,’ because that’s not enough. You have to look within yourself and the culture that you’re a part of.”

Otterson said the early Take Back the Night events were organized mainly by women. Over time, she realized that men could be counted on as allies. “Fairly early on, it came to be understood that men wanted to participate,” she recalled. “These men were offended and wounded by violence in two ways: They were wounded on behalf of this epidemic of violence against women, but of course men get hurt in these ways too.”

Vanessa Salinas, a featured speaker, is part of the Organization of Latin American Students on campus. “The best part of Take Back the Night is that it brings everyone together,” she said. “Even if it’s not a lot of us, the event helps us understand that we have the same connections and that we have that sense of togetherness to go through these issues.”

Otterson said that meditation has aided her in organizing Take Back the Night. “I’ve been meditating for five years, and I have come to realize that peace in the world begins with peace in the heart,” she said. “You can study in classes, learn statistics and participate in political activism, but if you don’t change your deep wounding, you’re going to still be acting out these generation-long dramas of victim or perpetrator, or in many cases, both.”

Alex Camp is an editorial intern at Illinois Times. He is pursuing his master’s degree at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact him at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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