Chants and whistles permeated Morningside Heights on Thursday night, as students and local residents held the 24th annual Take Back the Night March. The march, which was completely gender-neutral for the first time this year, aims to raise awareness about sexual violence and create a safe space for survivors of rape and sexual assault.
“I’ve known a lot of survivors, and I think it’s important to bring the community together for something like this,” Rachel Herzog, BC ’15, said.
The march, an international event founded in 1978, was held at Barnard for the first time in 1988. TBTN was opened to all genders for the first time in 2008, but until this year, the front of the march had remained a women-only space.
“I think it’s awesome,” Marcus Hunter, CC ’15, said of the change. “Everyone is implicated in rape culture, so it’s good to see that the movement is inclusive of everyone now.”
In the spirit of the march’s gender-neutrality, TBTN reached out to the Men’s Peer Education program this year to encourage peer educators to participate.
As participants marched through the streets, they chanted, “Two, four, six, eight! Stop the violence! Stop the hate!” and “Rape is a felony, even with CUID!” They also started a spontaneous chant of “Take back all the nights,” in reference to a speech given by Heben Nigatu, CC ’13, at the pre-march rally.
First-time marcher Frank Pinto, SEAS ’12, said he enjoyed his experience as a marshal, responsible for directing the marchers and the chanting.
“I liked the energy,” he said. “It felt like the crowd was just as excited as the marshals were.”
At one point during the night, Pinto said, people started throwing eggs at the marchers. Despite this, many marchers said that neighborhood residents showed support for their cause.
“It was great to see the community supporting this. When we walked by the brownstones and they had Take Back the Night banners, I got teary-eyed to see all these people who aren’t even marching with us supporting us,” said Lea Farrell, BC ’13 and co-coordinator of this year’s march.
At the pre-march rally, Nigatu talked about combatting the rape culture on Columbia’s campus, challenging students to “be self-critical and to interrogate your own organizations and your own actions” when it comes to being aware of sexual violence.
The march was followed by a “speak-out” in Barnard’s LeFrak Gym, where survivors and those close to them shared their stories anonymously.
“I think it [sexual violence] affects a lot of people,” said Gita Deo, BC ’12 and the other TBTN co-coordinator. “It’s really all around us, but nobody notices it, and this is a way to make people notice.”
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is sponsored by the University’s Sexual Violence Response Program. Other events have included performances, lectures, and spoken-word poetry gatherings.
University President Lee Bollinger expressed support for TBTN and SAAM in an email to Columbia students on Thursday, urging them to “consider participating in Sexual Assault Awareness Month and doing your part to help prevent sexual assault.” He added that it has lon g been a priority at Columbia to “increase awareness about sexual assault, decrease its frequency, support survivors of violence, and hold accountable students who violate University policies.”
The march took place less than a week after an attempted sexual assault in Riverside Park. A Bwog post on the attack sparked dozens of comments debating whether the woman who was attacked should be blamed for jogging through the park alone at about 6 p.m.
TBTN released a statement Tuesday condemning comments that blamed the woman who was attacked.
“It’s obviously really problematic when you’re faulting someone for an assault that they experienced,” TBTN press liaison Lauren Herold, CC ’12, said. “I was kind of shocked that these ideas are still getting reproduced no matter how many times we talk about them.”
Herold added that she hoped people would think about the comments during the march.
“It’s kind of a timely example of how important these issues are and how much work we have to do to constantly combat victim blaming, or rape culture, or misogynistic or racist attitudes,” she said.