Hundreds of Virginia Tech students gathered in the Graduate Life Center auditorium for the annual Take Back the Night rally on March 31 before marching through campus and downtown Blacksburg. Attendees also included faculty and staff, members of the Blacksburg community and local officials.
Take Back the Night is an international non-profit organization that seeks to end gender-based violence. Take Back the Night rallies are held annually in communities around the world, where individuals come together to demonstrate against sexual, relationship and domestic violence. According to Susan Anderson, United Feminist Movement (UFM) faculty advisor and vice mayor of Blacksburg, this annual event came to Virginia Tech in 1990 and has been held on campus every year since then except for 2020 and 2021 due to the outbreak of COVID -19.
The evening began with an indoor rally, which included speeches from MRU leadership and representatives from various local and campus initiatives. Survivors of gender-based violence then shared personal testimonies and participants participated in a minute of silence.
Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith shared how touched she was hearing the stories of people who have been directly affected by the Take Back the Night cause.
“There’s a lot of tenderness and bravery every year at this rally,” Hager-Smith said. “I am overwhelmed by the bravery it takes to stand up and speak. To stand up and share this kind of trauma is very impressive, but it also brings it to life.
Virginia Tech faculty and staff were also in attendance Thursday night.
“Take Back the Night is a powerful opportunity and experience to hear the stories of survivors and community members who have been impacted by sexual violence or any form of gender-based violence,” said Byron Hughes, Dean of Students. “I appreciate what they do for our community and hope we can do more to support them.”
After the indoor gathering, participants lit hand candles and gathered outside. With survivors of gender-based violence in the lead, more than 100 people marched through the Virginia Tech campus and downtown Blacksburg carrying signs with messages and singing together. A refrain heard repeatedly in the crowd was: “What do you want? Campus secure! When do you want it? Now!”
MFU’s larger goal in organizing the Take Back the Night Rally at Virginia Tech is to bring about policy change at the university level and to institute social change among students on campus, which they hope , will eventually end gender-based violence. MRU has been working towards this goal for many years but believes there is still significant progress to be made.
“We know this is a very big issue among students, and we want to continue to press the administration for transparency and accountability on this issue. MFU, for years, has been a consistent voice against the issue of gender-based violence and sexual violence on our campus,” said Junior Carolina Bell, UFM Chapter President at Virginia Tech.
Bell went on to talk about the impact she hopes Thursday night’s rally and march will have.
“For tonight, I hope we can create an environment that supports survivors and (that) our community can come together – faculty, students, staff, members of the Blacksburg community and administrators – and say, ‘We are against gender-based violence, and we are here to support survivors and do better in our own community,” Bell said.