Outside Mission Plaza, a mother plays with her son; a couple strolls through the courtyard; students socialize in a circle. Like most Thursday evenings, downtown is bustling as the community comes together to enjoy the local Farmers’ Market. As a grandmother crosses the bridge from a walk along the creek toward the plaza, she realizes this Thursday is different. Strung along the bridge railing, she is struck by a colorful display of posters. She somberly reads the collection of stories on the bridge, as looks of grief, compassion and disgust intermittently befall her face.
She reads, “He told me I was worthless and I truly felt that I was. So I stayed. Then one day, he tried to rape me. I fought so hard. I can still feel exactly how his hands felt around my neck …”
And on another poster, as a girl ends her story she writes, “Remember that the survivor is never at fault; it is always the perpetrator’s fault no matter what the situation is.”
The grandmother for the first time smirks, and whispers “absolutely right, honey.”
She, and many other community members, were drawn to the displays along Mission Plaza that made up this past Thursday’s “Take Back the Night” event, put on by Cal Poly’s Safer.
Explaining the importance of the event, “Take Back the Night” coordinator and journalism senior Lexi McCoy said, “’Take Back the Night’ is an international event that occurs every year. Our mission is to end sexual violence and domestic violence. It’s a great way to show that our community supports survivors and that our community doesn’t accept or tolerate sexual assault, and we are actively working to prevent it.”
The display of women’s and men’s stories of sexual and domestic violence worked very powerfully in raising awareness. The stories belonged to survivors of sexual violence who have attended Cal Poly.
“These are probably the most powerful part,” computer science junior Matthew Davis said. “If people took a minute to read these … I think that’s the biggest message.”
The posters, along with the other displays at “Take Back the Night,” brought to light the realness of an issue happening far too frequently on campus.
According to the Cal Poly website, “1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men will be sexually assaulted during their college years.” This puts into perspective the imminent need for an awareness event like “Take Back the Night.”
The evening’s events began with an awareness march through downtown. The students who participated in the march, many of them participating in greek life philanthropy, shouted, “We’ve got the power. We’ve got the right. The streets belong to us at night!” They circled through the downtown streets lining Mission Plaza, attracting attention from nearby locals.
Following the march, a collection of talented musicians and poets performed in front of the Mission. The performances showcased powerful words addressing the issues at play.
Spoken word poet Biba Pickles shared her experience getting her period for the first time, and having her schoolboy friend realize “girls have it really tough.” Relating this to the ghastly crimes women endure, Pickles vehemently concluded her poem, “If a fucking 11-year-old boy can understand that, a fucking grown man should be able to.” The statement was met with wild support from the crowd.
Singer Julia Friefeld sang a soft ballad partnered with the acoustic guitar, addressing the theme of sexual violence. Her words moved the audience as she sang, “You can hurt my exterior, but that’s not a mirror of what’s inside of me.”
Friefeld’s charming stage presence and genuine sincerity highlighted the message of her music — no rapist can diminish the intrinsic beauty of a good soul.
Another moving artist was Jasmine Escalante, who poignantly shared her experience of intimate partner violence through poetry: “He started killing who I was. He started to change who I was. ‘Maybe diet if you can.’ ‘Your laugh is obnoxious.’ ‘Tone it down babe.’ ‘Are you really wearing that?’”
“I had sex with anyone that liked me,” Escalante said of her experience following her assault. “I gave up my body because somebody already took it from me. Instead of letting someone else take it from me, I gave it.”
Escalante went on to share her struggles of having confidence in herself. The bravery and boldness it took to share her story inspired the crowd and drew cheers of support. Though at times she struggled with a lack of self-worth, the audience clearly experienced the value she brings to the table.
Like many of the community members who attended, Cal Poly alumna Aracely Aceves Lozano was very moved by the event.
“I thought [the performances] were excellent,” Lozano said. “I thought there was a really good variety of men and women performing and supporting the cause. I’m really passionate about the cause and the movement, and I wanted to come out and support the great volunteers and students that put this on, and support the survivors in the community and their loved ones.”
Following the set of brave, honest performers, Safer volunteers handed out candles to audience members to participate in a candle lit vigil to honor survivors. As it was getting late in the night, it was windy and many of the candles blew out. The audience was eager to show their solidarity, and those who had lit candles shared a flame with their neighbor whose flame had died.
This served as a perfect metaphor for “Take Back the Night.” Though the breeze tried to blow out the light on the movement, the support of a few spread; the crowd persisted despite the wind. So too, the voices of survivors would not be diminished. With the support of our community, their light will shine in the midst of adversity.