Students, staff and community members gathered Tuesday, Oct. 19, during “Take Back the Night” to protest domestic violence and sexual assault and dismantle the silence from which it feeds.
The annual event hosted by the Cross-Cultural and Gender Center (CCGC) and the Women’s Alliance Club works to break the cycle of abuse by providing survivors with a platform to speak, a plethora of resources and a community of support.
“Domestic violence and sexual assault is sadly a very taboo subject, when in all actuality it happens to so many people,” said Chyann Stiles, president of the Women’s Alliance Club. “I think events like this are extremely important for survivors because it gives us a space that is meant for that conversation.”
The conversation began in the North Gym, where several on- and off-campus resources advocated their services.
“I am here to support, I am here to provide a safe space and I’m here confidentially,” said Mindy Kates, Fresno State survivor advocate.
Kates provides support to victims of stalking, domestic violence and sexual assault. Although she maintains normal office hours, resources are available 24/7 through her hotline.
During the resource fair, attendees were encouraged to pick from a bouquet of carnations that sat in the back of the room. Half were adorned with positive affirmations while the other half were left bare.
Bryanna Caesar, student coordinator for the gender programs and services at the CCGC, said this was done so organizers could approach the attendees and share the messages personally.
“We wanted to personally tell each person that felt comfortable, ‘you are worthy, you are important, you are loved,’” Caesar said. “We wanted to build that rapport to show survivors that we do see you and we are here for you.”
Zafar Sumler, an associate marriage and family therapist who spoke during the program, pointed out that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have been a victim of either rape or attempted rape. Sumler said that these statistics are likely underreported, especially those surrounding men.
Estevan Parra Guerrero, LGBTQ and gender resources coordinator at the CCGC and advisor for the women’s alliance, said to combat this, men are encouraged to join the conversation.
“We do recognize that the majority of survivors and victims identify as women, but we also want to focus on men who are survivors and who are victims,” Parra Guerrero said. “So this year, we tried to be a bit more inclusive by inviting men to speak.”
Lionel Jefferson, a pastor who shared his poem “Seconds Away from Death,” was one of the men invited by Parra Guerrero to share his story.
“We can turn off all these lights and the darkness would be enormous, but one flick of a light and we can see again,” Jefferson said. “I hope tonight that you recognize that you can take back the night… because there is always a light available, there is always someone who understands.”
After the program, attendees gathered outside and were given candles to protest the nights of unrest. The group then marched to the Jane Addams statue in the Peace Garden where survivors were given the opportunity to share their story.
“Usually the people who go on stage to share their story are students,” Parra Guerrero said. “But I think that it’s important for our students to know that there’s staff and faculty who are also survivors. This is a private community, and if you need to talk to someone, I know that struggle.”