u'Design by Tim Hubner/AS Publicity Center'

u'Design by Tim Hubner/AS Publicity Center'

Matt Crowley/The AS Review

This Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m., the AS Women’s Center will host their annual Take Back the Night rally and march. The event gives students and community members an opportunity to speak out against sexual violence on college campuses and in communities.

Take Back the Night began in Brussels, Belgium in 1976, when the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women was taking place. Two thousand women from 40 different countries participated and later held the first ever Take Back the Night march in the streets of Brussels. Soon, the idea had spread to Rome, Germany and England, where it was known as Reclaim the Night, before coming to New York and the rest of North America, where for the past 30 years it has “returned its focus to eliminating sexual violence in all forms, and thousands of colleges, universities, women’s centers, and rape crisis centers have sponsored events all over the country,” according to its Web site (www.takebackthenight.org).

Take Back the Night has been held annually at Western for over a decade. According to Women’s Center Coordinator Devin Majkut and Assistant Coordinator Shawna Held, the event is the highlight of the year.

“Take Back the Night is such an amazing chance to really make a statement about community and solidarity and safety and it’s really one of our core programs and really represents the voices of the campus,” Held said.

The rally kicks the night off at 7 p.m., featuring students and members of the community. Speakers include Tara Hardy, an acclaimed queer femme poet from Seattle, and multiple community activists.

“One of the reasons we’re having so many local people within the rally is to show that there is support everywhere and that people can feel safe in seeking help and finding a community,” Majkut said.

At 8:30 p.m. the march begins at the PAC and will weave through the Ridge, then down campus toward Holly Street, where it will continue downtown before heading back toward campus and up to the PAC. While only woman-identified people are allowed to participate in the march, a vigil led by Josh O’Donnell of Western Men Against Violence (WMAV) will also take place. Members of student-led organizations such as Women’s Empowerment and Violence Education (WEAVE) will be in attendance as well.

“Take Back the Night is not about the Women’s Center, we just host it and reserve the space and people come and say what they need to say and march together in streets that are really not safe,” Held said.

The night ends with a concert hosted by the Underground Coffeehouse, featuring Bellingham artists Cora Anne Glass, Cumulus and Party Thighs, as well as Seattleite Cristina Orbe.

“It continues with the theme of the Women’s Center office, which is ‘be heard,’ so it’s about empowering women’s voices and it’s really cool to have local performers there,” Majkut said.

The after-party is the final celebration of the event and an opportunity for participants to hang out and talk to one another. Majkut and Held stressed that people don’t have to attend the entire event and are free to come and go as they please.

“Sometimes Take Back the Night is the first event that people go to because it’s kind of hard to miss it. It’s kind of interesting that such a powerful and empowering event is sometimes people’s first introduction into a healthy community,” Majkut said.

Personal safety is always a hot-button topic on college campuses, where sexual violence statistics can reach alarming levels. Along with the Women’s Center, Crime and Sexual Assault Support Services and WMAV, programs such as the AS Sexual Awareness Center and the AS Social Issues Resource Center exist to help combat fear surrounding violence.
“Safety is something that, both on this campus and in so many of our communities, that is not real for so many people. And so many people are survivors and live in fear and experience violence every day and so we really want to honor the fact that violence is something real in our lives,” Held said.

Another march aimed at addressing similar issues is set to take place two days later on Saturday, April 17. WMAV will hold its annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoes fundraiser, where men are invited to literally walk a mile from Red Square to Boundary Bay in a women’s shoes to raise awareness of sexual violence. Walk A Mile In Her Shoes marches are held all throughout the world, and over 100 have been planned for 2010 alone. Registration begins at 11 a.m. in Red Square
The Women’s Center, located in VU 514, holds several events throughout the year and strives to support students on a day-to-day basis by offering resources and the opportunity to talk to others about their personal experiences.

“It really means a lot to us when students come by the office and talk to us about their experiences and their interactions and [are] looking for community support. … That’s really our main role on campus, to support students and help them find the resources they need,” Majkut said.