College Feminists host annual event to fight back against sexual violence

Tom Meyer

About 150 Northwestern students marched along Sheridan Road on Thursday night chanting “Yes means yes, no means no, whatever we wear, wherever we go,” and carrying colorful banners to protest sexual violence.

The march was part of the annual Take Back the Night event hosted by NU College Feminists which included events throughout the week and aims to bring attention to issues of rape and sexual assault, TBTN co-chair Amanda Scherker said. Other student groups, including Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators, Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault and sororities were represented at the rally, and MARS partnered with TBTN for an event earlier in the week.

Eva Ball, coordinator of sexual violence response services and advocacy at the newly created campus Center for Awareness, Response and Education, spoke to the crowd at a rally at the Rock before the march.

“A culture that still condones and accepts rape angers me,” Ball said. “But I stand here with joy and excitement because I believe we’re at the turning point and everyone here today is part of that.”

Take Back the Night, a national organization that has focused on issues of rape and sexual assault since 1975, worked with NU’s chapter to hold the event. At NU, the week will end with Friday and Saturday performances of “Student Body,” a student-produced play that deals with concepts of rape and consent and served as a new EssentialNU for new students in the fall.

In addition to Ball’s speech, TBTN held events throughout the week and on Thursday night. Following the speech and march, participants gathered in Dittmar Memorial Gallery at Norris University Center for a closed-door “speak out” session in which students were encouraged to share personal stories.

“I know that it helps survivors to know they have a community that cares,” said Scherker, a Communication junior. “Our tagline is ‘Break the silence,’ which is really that people talk about things they’ve never told people about before.”

Much of Ball’s speech focused on changing perceptions of rape, including ideas about who commits rape. She said much of the education that needs to be done involves emphasizing that in more than 90 percent of rape cases the victim knows the attacker. The larger issue, Ball said, is the blurred line of consent.

“The only difference between sex and sexual violence is consent,” Ball said. “And if ‘no’ is not an option, then ‘yes’ is meaningless.”

Mariel Henkoff, a Weinberg junior, said she found the entire event to be powerful.

“I think it’s a good way for every person here to learn something,” Henkoff said. “There’s enough people here that even if just the people here get something out of this, that’s something.”

Scherker said the rally and march had a higher turnout than in past years and may have set a record for attendance.

“It was really inspiring to see how many people came out,” Scherker said. “It says a lot about how mobilized the campus is about the issue and sexual assault.”

[email protected]