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A Night Reclaimed: Moravian Marches Against Sexual Violence

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Anticipation loomed in the lobby of the HILL at South Campus on Wednesday evening, March 28. Soon, scores of students would gather to participate in this year’s Take Back the Night demonstration by marching a mile north from the steps of the school’s largest dormitory complex to the HUB to take a stance against sexual violence.

This walk of roughly fifteen blocks down Main Street in Bethlehem has challenged many Moravian College students, though rarely are they accompanied by a large and enthusiastic crowd.

What is “Take Back The Night,” and how did the American Association of University Women (AAUW) make it a yearly tradition on Moravian’s campus? With my curiosity piqued, I shuffled through waves of sign-bearing demonstrators with a pen and paper, and experienced a movement rich with humor, individuality, and community support.

For the majority of the march, I was unable to find the front or back of the crowd, as the press of participants obscured the horizon. From what I believe was the center of the crowd, I could faintly hear the leading demonstrators chant messages through a megaphone. These messages sounded something like, “What do we want?” “[muffled speech]” “When do we want it?” “NOW!” I was unable to hear the chanting clearly, though the rhythm informed us when to shout the word “now.” It became my mission to wriggle through to the front of the densely-populated line in order to hear the messages aligned with Take Back the Night. I took quotes from demonstrators as I hopped ahead to the front.

The feedback from students expressed a fairly consistent sentiment, as Maddie Johnson ‘20 stated, “We’re happy that our campus supports this awareness and that so many people are willing to get involved.” Her friends walking with her with agreed. “It’s really good to see Greek life stepping up to support this cause.”  

Greek letter organizations accounted for most of the participants at this march against sexual violence, recording Take Back the Night as a Gold Star event, which requires multiple chapters to participate together in some kind of wholesome activity to maintain accreditation. Other students joined the march to gain a writing topic in their Artists as Activists class, or simply joined as an opportunity to bond with their friends. Regardless of the reason, there was plenty to enjoy along the way.

“The coolest part was seeing how people react to the event,” commented Nick Gaspar, ‘18. “People coming out on the street and shouting back responses in a positive way. It’s awesome to see that we’re sending a message and people are receiving it!” Shortly after he shared this, I had the opportunity to see the Bethlehem community respond first-hand.

A group of young men hung out of their apartment window with a megaphone, shouting to the crowd (and this is a direct quote) “Yeah!… Yeah…. Yeah!… I have a megaphone!” This statement was met with great approval. As trucks passed by the parade of jolly activists, they honked their horns in jovial little taps. At no point was the group confronted with disapproval, because no one in their right mind would oppose a march against sexual violence.

Many of the signs included phrases like “End the Silence, Stop the Violence,” since the greatest enemy to progress is indifference. Take Back the Night is “Real cool! [Although] mostly women [participate], it’s pretty cool that a bunch of guys are out here. It’s a good thing to do,” said John Taylor, class of 2019.

It seemed that the closer I got to the front of the bunch, the number of male demonstrators dwindled.  

Finally near the front, I was able to join in with the chants of “No means no!” and “No more violence! No more rape! No more silence! No more hate!” and yet I felt like an outsider. My slightly deeper, masculine voice was an atypical feature in the rallying cries. I felt like a car in a bike shop: loud, unusual, gaudy. I knew the words to be true, so I got over the initial discomfort quickly, and enjoyed the excited energy of the young demonstrators running the megaphone.

“We took it back!” exclaimed one of the marching leaders as the crowd surged through the main entrance of the HUB. “We snatched it back!”

Before everyone settled in for the programming to take place in the Pavilion, I sought out Amanda Merson, who is the director of Housing and Event Management at Moravian. Merson took on many of the responsibilities of AAUW’s advisor, and played a key role in organizing Take Back the Night this year.

“It’s been an honor to work this semester with AAUW,” said Merson. “The women are passionate about this event. This event is the culmination of all their hard work and energy.”

Merson later informed me that this year would mark the eighth year that Moravian has held a Take Back the Night event. It surprised me how much attention was required to find that number! Take Back the Night has been held at Moravian long enough that no one responsible for this year’s demonstration could remember when it first arrived on campus.

Finally, the evening program began with an introduction from AAUW, which set the stage for a compelling night of expression and feedback. The content alternated between speakers and creative performers, including original poetry that focused on topics like depression and self-perception, as well as songs by Lady Gaga, Gloria Gaynor, and KT Tunstall.

The speakers from the community organizations supporting Take Back the Night also reminded attendees of the resources available through Moravian. They also provided insight regarding the nature of sexual violence, from the cause of the problem to the steps that can be taken in achieving a lasting solution.

A representative from the Bradbury Sullivan LGBT Center spoke at the event, offering support and resources to survivors who feel disenfranchised by other sources of counseling and security. Though Moravian College offers free counseling services to students in need, the Bradbury Sullivan LGBT Center can offer support and understanding that may seem otherwise unavailable.

Moravian’s Counseling center was represented by director Dr. Ron Kline, who said that sexual aggression is a “man’s problem,” and that the most reliable way to prevent rape is to educate men to develop healthy sexual habits. According to Kline, many males disapprove of other men advocating this kind of education, and will publicly denounce a man for being brave enough to stand up for the cause. This is likely the greatest force which perpetuates sexual violence on college campuses and throughout the greater community.

Leah Naso Breisch, the Title IX coordinator at Moravian, spoke after Kline. Breisch shared history about the Take Back the Night movement, which began in the United Kingdom and was subsequently adopted by American college students in the 1970’s. While Take Back the Night has a rich history of expanding the protest of sexual violence and support for victims, Breisch claims that “there is always work to be done.”

Some of the work that Breisch is doing to improve Moravian’s campus includes a Campus Climate Survey, which will launch on Monday, April 9. The purpose of this survey is to gauge the sense of safety and pro-activity around campus, and the effectiveness of Title IX. Those who participate in the survey can win a visa gift card worth $250.

Other upcoming dates and activities around campus for spreading awareness about sexual violence include Julia Garcia’s “Dirty Girl” on April 10 at 8 p.m. in Johnston Hall. This performance is open to the public and examines the intersection of drugs, alcohol, and sexual misconduct. On April 25, the Crime Victims Council is orchestrating an event for Denim Day, which acknowledges the grossly unethical verdict of a rape charge, which was based on the tightness of the victim’s jeans.

There are many ways to get involved and advocate for a sexually-healthy atmosphere around Moravian College. Participating in Take Back the Night has been a wonderful starting point.

Joining AAUW and the community for this march from South to North Campus and taking the Campus Climate survey are spectacular ways for voices of progress to be heard at Moravian. This is especially true for men who want to take great steps to eliminate any separation between social consciousness and perceived normalcy. Here is an opportunity to improve the world. Take it.

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1 Comment

One Response to “A Night Reclaimed: Moravian Marches Against Sexual Violence”

  1. Leah Naso Breisch on April 9th, 2018 9:12 am

    Thanks, Matthew, for highlighting the importance of this event and others that bring awareness of sexual violence in our community!

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