More than 100 Penn and Drexel students marched to protest sexual assault and relationship violence on Penn’s campus Thursday night as part of Take Back the Night, an annual event hosted by the Penn chapter of Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention.
The event consisted of a rally on College Green, a march around campus, a survivor speak-out at Houston Hall, and a debrief at the Penn Women’s Center at the end of the night. It is one of hundreds of protests that take place around the world each year through the Take Back the Night Foundation, which works to eliminate violence against women.
The rally began with a performance by the Drexel African Fusion Dance Team, followed by opening remarks from ASAP Chair and College senior Kara Hardie and speeches from leaders of campus organizations such as Penn Women’s Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, and Penn Violence Prevention.
Penn Women's Center Director Sherisse Laud-Hammond spoke about the resources available to survivors on campus, adding that these resources exist to “create and maintain safe spaces” for students. Laud-Hammond said she hoped students left the event feeling encouraged to raise their voices against sexual assault.
Sonalee Rashatwar, a sex therapist and grassroots organizer, gave a keynote speech at the event and said movements such as Take Back the Night too often focus on "thin, cisgender, heterosexual white women.” She urged students to consider the needs of indigenous women, incarcerated women, men who are survivors, and other groups that are less represented in discussions of sexual violence to “take back the night for all of us.”
After the rally, students marched around campus holding signs and chanting phrases such as “UPenn unite! Take back the night!” and “No more silence! No more violence!”
“Sexual harassment and sexual assault is a conversation that has come up a lot among my classmates and my peers," College freshman Zareen Khan said. "It was really nice to hear that this event is doing something in a positive way to combat it.”
The march was followed by a survivor speak-out in Houston Hall. Hardie said she hoped the event would “provide a space where survivors feel heard, believed, and supported.”
The event came amid student criticism of Penn President Amy Gutmann for declining to attend Take Back the Night for the past four years. This year, Gutmann did not attend due to a scheduling conflict, and instead sent a written statement of support. Hardie said Gutmann's statements have been read aloud in the past, but this year the statement was printed on the first page of the program instead.
“We respect [Gutmann's] support and we’re glad that she stands by this event," Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault President and College junior Justin Iannacone said. "Hopefully, in the future, we’d like to see her come out to one Take Back the Night event.”
“I think it’s quite problematic," Khan said of Gutmann's absence. "But I think it’s more of a reason to have more students come here and pressure for some sort of change.”
Khan added that she hopes Take Back the Night allows students to empower themselves to create change without relying on top-down changes from administrators.