Take Back the Night: Three colleges march for sexual assault awareness

Westminster students gather on the steps of Converse Hall at Westminster College for a Take Back the Night march from the University of Utah.  The walk was sponsored by Students for Choice as part of college-wide events recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it aimed to reclaim public spaces as safe spaces. Photos by Angie Merkley

Westminster students gather on the steps of Converse Hall at Westminster College for a Take Back the Night march from the University of Utah.  The walk was sponsored by Students for Choice as part of college-wide events recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it aimed to reclaim public spaces as safe spaces. Photos by Angie Merkley

On April 12, a sea of teal shirts flowed across 1300 East, chanting with united voices to establish public spaces as safe spaces.

Westminster’s Students for Choice chapter, along with the University of Utah’s and Salt Lake Community College’s (SLCC) chapters, held a march from the University of Utah’s campus to Westminster’s for the annual Take Back the Night event.

Students from the three schools walked in solidarity with victims of sexual assault as part of sexual assault awareness month. Fernando Rivero, sexual assault and human trafficking advocate, and Donna Kelly, prosecutor from the Attorney General's Office, also spoke at the event.

“The politicians talk a lot about freedom, but there’s another type of freedom they don’t pay attention to,” said Kelly as the crowd of activists listened on the steps of Converse Hall. “If I had a chance to talk to the political leaders in Utah, [I’d say] that you can never feel freedom if you can’t feel safe… We rob sexual assault victims of their freedom by how we treat them.”

Kelly brought up clients who were expelled from schools, fired from jobs or evicted from apartments because of the “disturbance” they caused by reporting a sexual assault.

“Take Back the Night is to reclaim [public] spaces, and it’s a time to show the community that young people are taking a stand for standing in solidarity with victims of sexual assault,” said Leah Weisgal, junior public health major and president of Westminster’s Students for Choice chapter. “There are a lot of survivors in our community, and it’s important to show them that you believe them and respect them and that you care about them.”

Cars honked and residents cheered through their windows as students and staff chanted through Sugar House, waving signs and yelling at the tops of their voices.

“When women’s lives are under attack, what do we do?” shouted Brittany Bickley, co-president of SLCC’s Students for Choice chapter.

“Stand up! Fight back!” the activists called back.

“When trans lives are under attack, what do we do?”

“Stand up! Fight back!”

“When women don’t feel safe at night, what do we do?”

“Stand up! Fight back! Stand up! Fight back! Stand up! Fight back!”

Rivero, sexual assault and human trafficking advocate, also spoke at the event, encouraging students to continue to be part of social justice movements, particularly ones like Take Back the Night.

“One in four of you young women, and some young men, will be sexually assaulted,” Rivero said. “You should not fear being sexually assaulted because of what you wear or where you choose to walk on campus… or choose to drink with friends or go to a frat party. That’s victim blaming.”

Rivero said that college administrators need to stop avoiding these issues and address the problems that are occurring on campuses across the nation. He said it’s time for college campuses to be safe places for all and that a cultural revolution needs to happen.

“It’s 2016,” Rivero said. “It shouldn’t be swept under the rug… Let’s make every month sexual assault awareness month.”

Students who want to learn more about Take Back the Night and Students for Choice can visit the Westminster chapter’s Facebook page or email Leah Weisgal at studentsforchoicewestminster@gmail.com.

“We can show the community what the young people believe in,” said Weisgal, who led at the front of the march. “Together, we’re loud.”