Take Back the Night 2017, Eastern Mennonite UniversityWill Ewart
Winifred Gray-Johnson shares at a TBTN event.

“Let’s just hold this space for a moment,” said senior Perry Blosser, just before an extended moment of silence at the end of Monday night’s lament-themed hymn sing. “Silence is something that everyone can participate in.”

As the official introduction to this year’s Take Back the Night (TBTN) week, the hymn sing set the tone for the following events by modeling intentionality in “holding space.”

Take Back the Night has had events all week, including a seminary chapel on Tuesday morning, a Tuesday night event called “Take Back the Night: Walking Together,” and Wednesday morning’s chapel, entitled “Like Every Other: It Happens Here.”

Take Back the Night 2017, Eastern Mennonite UniversityDylan Buchanan
Senior Anna Messer takes a stone from the stage in chapel on Wednesday, Nov. 8. The stones represent the heaviness of the conversation and a committment to breathe, to grieve, and to lament victims of sexual violence.
Senior Katrina Poplett, one of the co-leaders of Take Back the Night, re-emphasized the importance of holding and sitting with tension in the introduction to Wednesday’s chapel, saying, “This is an uncomfortable space to be in, but we invite you to hold the stories in your heart.”

Poplett has been heavily involved with TBTN during her time at EMU and is now in her second year of leading the TBTN planning committee with fellow co-leader senior Jonatan Moser. “I am involved in TBTN because I think the processes and policies here at EMU do not address the needs that are created from sexual assault,” said Poplett. “TBTN has increased my ability to talk about sexual assault and connect to people in our community over a subject that is normally not openly addressed.”

For Moser, TBTN is important for slightly different reasons. “Toxic masculinity, I would say, is by far one of the worst things that is being held on campus,” said Moser. “It’s just like this expectation of women giving men what they want, and I’m not saying all men do that here on campus, but it’s subtle and it’s here. We need to have conversations about it.”

Wednesday night’s event, called “How Language Legitimizes: A Second Look at What We Don’t Think of Twice” and catered specifically for males, attempted to do just that. Led by seniors Ben Rush and Joseph Mumaw and Assistant Professor of Department of Applied Social Sciences Tim Seidel, the conversation was designed to name the many ways in which sexual violence is legitimized by the type of language we use. “We named this discussion ‘Language Legitimizes’ because we wanted to investigate and interrogate the small things that prop up rape culture,” said Rush.

The evening conversation began with a focused inquiry of some of the fan banners created for College GameDay a few weeks ago when James Madison University hosted Villanova for a football game. From there, the discussion meandered, varying from topics like locker room talk and masculinization of male-only spaces to the normalization and trivialization of sexually violent language, especially in colleges and universities.

Take Back the Night continues tonight with the week’s culminating event, a coffeehouse event in Common Grounds designed to create a safe space for the sharing of personal stories related to sexual violence.

According to Poplett, this year’s coffeehouse will look a little different. “We realized that the format of previous years was not meeting everyone’s needs, so we are including ways of expression through visual arts, music, writing stations, prompts and also a space for sharing,” said Poplett. Poplett mentioned that Inside Out, a group that specializes in a type of storytelling called playback theater, will also help out with the event. “We are excited to see how this new format allows for more people to feel compelled to share, even if the sharing is only with themselves through the space/materials provided there,” said Poplett.

The coffeehouse event, entitled “Take Back the Mic: Space to Share,” begins at 8 p.m. in Common Grounds with an expressive art activity and continues until 10 p.m. All are invited to participate in this event — to share, to listen, or even just to “hold the space.”

Harrison Horst

Senior Advisor

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