People gather in Fresno State’s Free Speech Area during for a candlelight vigil during Take Back The Night Wednesday. Darlene Wendels/ The Collegian.
Hundreds of students, faculty and community organizations gathered Wednesday evening in the Free Speech Area to share their stories and raise awareness about sexual assault at the Take Back The Night rally.
Take Back the Night, which started on campus in 1979, recognizes victims and survivors globally who have suffered sexual assault or violence. Approximately 1.3 million women have been physically assaulted by an intimate partner this year alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.
Based on the recent groundbreaking California “yes means yes” legislation
this year’s rally focused on sexual consent.
Dr. Loretta Kensinger, women’s studies professor, called on students to know and follow the law requiring affirmative consent from both partners prior to sexual contact.
“Legislators are finally getting engaged in the issues of sexual violence on campus by a courageous group of tenacious survivors who wouldn’t have their rights trampled on,” Kensinger said.
Eighty-two schools across the U.S. are currently being investigated for violations of Title IX, Kensinger said. Title IX requires state-funded schools to prohibit discrimination based on sex and compels institutions to take proactive steps to protect students against sexual violence.
The schools being investigated include Swarthmore College, Occidental College, University Of California, Berkeley, Dartmouth and USC.
“A new generation of brave survivors are teaching us all that equal access to education means that women must be safe on their campuses,” Kensinger said. “Discussions are finally reaching from the survivors to the President, Congress and state house, from the dorm room to the chancellor, from the sorority to the office of student affairs.”
“Outrage against student violence is finally being heard,” Kensinger said.
Krysten Cherkaski, president of Fresno State’s Women’s Alliance and coordinator for Take Back the Night, also spoke about the importance of consent.
“Consent is important for numerous reasons,” Cherkaski said. “Our culture may begin a critical shift in responsibility from teaching women that it is their job to protect themselves against sexual violence to teaching all people that sexual violence should not be perpetrated.”
Cherkaski spoke about the harsh realities that students face living in what she called a rape culture. She focused on student’s solidarity and their ability to overcome barriers of identity, gender, race, state lines or time zones.
“Everyday acts such as taking the bus to and from campus, walking back to your car after a night class or preparing for a night out with friends can seem like going into battle,” Cherkaski said.
“You may feel unsafe, afraid or alone, and it is of the utmost importance to know that you are supported, that you have a safe space in the people that surround you tonight.”
Student leaders also read anonymous poetry and described their own personal stories of sexual assault. Cherkaski said that these stories served as personal anecdotes against a litany of statistics that students shouldn’t tune out.
“19 percent of female undergraduate students will become victims of sexual assault before they graduate, which is roughly 4,361 Fresno State students,” Cherkaski said. “We are not statistics; we are people. We are students, friends, colleagues and family, and we can put a stop to this.”
Hosted by the Fresno State Women’s Alliance, People are Organized for Women’s Empowerment and Representation (POWER) and the Women’s Resource Center, peer counselors were available throughout the night as a resource for students.
Informational tabling booths provided by the Fresno State Student Health Center, Student Pride and the Marjaree Mason Center were also available for students. Participants could sign posters and design T-shirts that were hung as a visual representation against violence.
The rally also noted other national campaigns against sexual violence, including the “Know Your Nine” campaign founded in 2013 by Amherst College student Dana Bolger and Yale student Alexandra Brodsky. The campaign, which is based on campus violations of Title IX, promotes equal opportunity and access for students, in addition to educating students about their sexual rights.
The program concluded with a candlelit vigil held in memory of victims of sexual assault. A march across campus was also led by members of the Sigma Omega Phi Sorority.
“These stories and advocates against domestic violence are so passionate about making a change, they have encouraged me to do the same,” said Katie Emmons, a senior political science major. “We are all susceptible to violent situations whether we recognize it or not, and it is encouraging to know that there are people out there who care.”