Community members marched, performed, lit candles and supported survivors of sexual assault and gender-based violence at this year’s Take Back the Night gathering on Thursday, April 25 on Mission Plaza.

An international event with history as far back as the 1970s, Take Back The Night’s message is to raise awareness about sexual, domestic and gender-based violence across the world with the aim of ending said violence. This year’s evening event consisted of an open mic, candlelight vigil and resources for those who need support or want to join in the cause.

“It’s an event that a lot of people know about, so it’s a way that a lot of people chose to engage [with] sexual violence, when a lot of the times it is a little more swept under the rug,” sociology junior Grace Vankirk, one of the event’s chairpersons, said. “It’s an opportunity for there to be a community created around survivors and those who support survivors of sexual violence.”

The event, which was open to Cal Poly students and the general San Luis Obispo community, was hosted by Safer, an on-campus resource for survivors of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. Take Back the Night is one of the culminating events of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, April. 

The night included live music by Dudeo Perez from San Luis Obispo, student performances and speeches, interactive art exhibits and a march through downtown San Luis Obispo.

“We thought it would [be] a great opportunity to play for such a unique and awesome event that is for a good cause,” communication studies junior and Dudeo Perez member Jackson Reynosa said. “We think that such an event like this is really important to be discussed and that we can have survivors brave enough to come up and tell their story.”

Connor Frost | Mustang News

The night ended with a candlelight vigil hosted by Mayor Heidi Harmon with a moment of silence to honor those who have passed away due to sexual violence and gender based violence.

“It honors the women who have been killed, and it articulates exactly what we have been afraid of,” Harmon said.

English senior Amelia Meyerhoff, creator of The Clapback Project — a senior project that looks at campus climate surrounding sexual assault at Cal Poly — spoke about the common themes, ideas and responses in the 61 interviews that make up the project.

Students and community members shared their stories or stories on behalf of their friends at an open mic session. Some used slam poetry while others spoke from the heart and told the community about their experience. Nutrition junior Claire Pizzo spoke up at the open mic to encourage friends and family of survivors to listen to the stories, not judge and not invalidate their experiences. She said that rape does not just happen at night in the dark. It is not always dramatic or violent, she said, but that does not mean it did not cause pain or trauma.

“I just felt, if don’t do this, I’ll probably regret it, because what if someone did need to hear that?” Pizzo said. “This is such a comfortable, safe environment, and I honestly wouldn’t have been down if I wasn’t encouraged by people next to me.”

While some attendees sought community and support for their own experiences, others were at Take Back the Night to show up and show support for their peers. 

“I really like this — especially for people that do kind of get silenced by some of these things,” marine sciences freshman Macy Cameron said. “Coming to a place like this where there is just support everywhere, you read stories of people you don’t know supporting you.”

Although sexual violence and gender based violence does not always occur at night and by strangers in the dark, Take Back the Night has served as an opportunity to build a community and showcase the continued fight against this violence.

“Tonight was just one example of how much stronger we are when we stand together,” Vankirk said. 

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