Students Embrace Empowerment

As part of an annual event, Dickinson students, faculty and community members came together to “take back the night.”  Marching from Allison Church to various spots around the academic quad, people cried out slogans such as “2-4-6-8, no more date rape!” and “This is our body, this is our right; take a stand, take back the night!”

Before the march began, several speeches and stories were shared in the completely packed Allison Community Room.  Kelly Wilt, who is the Violence Prevention Coordinator and a Dean of Students, said “This is a night to honor those impacted by sexual assault.  We want to give them a voice and demonstrate community support.”

The night began with a dance performance by several members of the Dance Theatre Group.  Performing an act called “Faceless Torture,” the dancers faced away from the crowd while President Barack Obama’s “It’s On Us” speech played in the background.

After the dance, several students took the stage to share their personal stories and experiences.  Larry Jolon ’15 spoke for Danielle Melnick ’17, who was unable to attend the event.  According to Jolon, she said, “By coming out as a community, we are not allowing violence on the Dickinson campus.  We need to foster a safe campus by recognizing trauma and acknowledging the courage and resilience of those who have been affected.”  She continued, “We need to take steps towards widespread cultural change.”

Victoria Caccione ’15, another student speaker, said she decided to make the difficult decision to speak at the event because “I want to help others because I am no longer afraid.  I am here to take back control of my story, and I want survivors to know that you are enough.”  Alex Fernandez ’15 also spoke, relating this event to its history: “What began 42 years ago in San Francisco has now evolved to a worldwide movement.”  Fernandez continued that this movement is for everyone.  As he said, “One in three women and one in six men will experience sexual assault, but only 50 percent will report it.  It is our job to take back the numerous nights that many have missed, and I have faith that we will make a positive difference.”

The keynote speaker at the event was Dr. Salamishah Tillet, who is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and the co-founder of the non-profit organization A Long Walk Home.  During her address, she said, “We need to take back our bodies, campuses, communities and our country.  Too many people have been afraid or felt uncomfortable in spaces and places.”  She continued, “For far too long, crimes against us have been ignored, yet survivors are still human, innocent and sane.”

Tillet believes that “the epidemic of sexual assault in our country is out of control, and it is a shame upon democracy.  Instead of victims, people are called sluts or whores.”  The best chance at fighting this epidemic is activism, according to Tillet.  “Student activists are our best chance at winning this war.  We need to make this a priority issue by using bravery to spark legislation, and honesty to make it easier for survivors to come forward.”

Before taking to Morgan Field to march for the closing of the event, Tillet encouraged students to take one final message away.  “We will not just be on the right side of history; we will be the victors.  I demand with you that we live in a world free of sexual silence, with more men and women in our side, in a global revolution of freedom makers.  Together we will change the language and consciousness of sexual assault.”  Quoting the poet June Jordan, Tillet ended by saying, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”