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Students to rally against sexual violence with Take Back the Night event

A coalition of students, the Office of Campus Security and the Take Back the Night foundation will join on campus Thursday to take a stand against sexual violence.

Take Back the Night is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to ending sexual and domestic violence. Thursday’s event serves as TBTN’s kick-off for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which begins in April.

It will include a service in the campus chapel, a neighborhood march around Belmont and end with a candlelight vigil by the Bell Tower.

Sophomores Macy Miller and Faith Gipson are student co-chairs of the TBTN planning committee. For them, TBTN is an opportunity for students gain a better understanding of sexual assault and consent.

It’s especially important because so many assaults take place on college campuses, Miller said.

One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while at college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Part of this, Miller said, is due to the freedom college brings mingled with a misunderstanding of what consent means.

“They’re sent out into the world and don’t know how to behave in these sorts of sexual situations, and consent is very shaky in a lot of cases,” said Miller.

This shaky understanding of consent underscores the importance of bringing the conversation to college students and preventing future instances of sexual assault, said Miller.

But TBTN isn’t just about educating people. It’s also about giving survivors a chance to share their stories and to empower them with support, Gipson said.

It’s been frustrating for Gipson to watch the rise of on-campus sexual assaults, and she said she wants people to understand the seriousness of the issue.

“I think it’s important to have that kind of representation, both for survivors and to show them that there are people on the campus that care and don’t just think, ‘Oh you’re fine, just shut up about it,’” said Gipson.

While TBTN is aimed primarily at uplifting survivors of sexual violence, it can have the same effect on someone who hasn’t been sexually assaulted, Director of TBTN Katie Koestner said.

“Whether you’re a survivor or a supporter of someone who is or just someone who wants to feel more empowered in life, that’s what the idea behind Take Back The Night is; it’s growing our strength and our community and our help and concern for each other,” she said.

Koestner will deliver the keynote presentation in the chapel Thursday night before the neighborhood march begins. She plans to address how sexual violence affects everyone, not just survivors, and will offer solutions on dealing with the issue.

A survivor herself, Koestner will also share her personal story. In 1990, at 18 years old, Koestner was date raped while attending the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

She was one of the first survivors to speak out nationally about her experience, appearing on the cover of Time Magazine in 1991. Since then, Koestner has appeared on dozens of talk shows and led hundreds of TBTN rallies.

“My main mission is to get more people from all walks of life talking about this problem,” said Koestner. “It’s just like any problem; it’s like hunger. People are hungry. I’m not hungry, my friends aren’t hungry but we know there are people who are hungry, and we know that’s not ok.”

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