Wednesday evening, students and community members gathered in the Michigan League for the 41st annual Take Back the Night Ann Arbor. Campus representatives from University of Michigan’s University Students Against Rape, in cooperation with community leaders from Standing Tough Against Rape Society, organized the rally, march and vigil to recognize and celebrate the stories of sexual assault survivors.
Public Policy senior Nicole Kozlowski, University Students Against Rape senior student leader, hoped to encourage a conversation about sexual assault prevention and recovery.
“First and foremost, we’re here to raise awareness about sexual violence not only on college campuses, but in our community,” Kozlowski said. “So I think just being able to recognize that it is a problem and it is a problem that everyone can work on and fix, that is the overall message.”
Information senior Stephanie Schouman, also a University Students Against Rape senior student leader, discussed the welcoming space they hope to create with the event.
“Whoever you are or whatever your story or background is … this is a place where you can come and be believed, and be heard, and that there are people out there who care about you, and you are never alone in this fight,” Schouman said.
LSA senior Sabrina Angel volunteers for University Students Against Rape and became involved with the group after coming to TBTN her freshman year.
“I’m a survivor myself, so this has really been an organization which helped me kind of come to terms with my story and really be able to support others who had the same kind of experience I had,” Angel said. “It means a lot to me that I get to support other people, especially because I didn’t feel like I had a support system until I came to Take Back the Night.”
Angel said she appreciates the refreshing positivity of TBTN.
“This event is not really about sadness or dwelling on experiences of the past,” Angel said. “We’re here to support the growth that survivors have achieved.”
TBTN is a national organization that started when Californian sex workers decided to protest their working conditions. Kozlowski explained the tradition as being purposefully radical and disruptive.
“It’s going into the streets, being like, ‘We’re out here. We’re loud. We’re going into the streets. We’re taking back the night,’” Kozlowski said.
Kozlowski said TBTN Ann Arbor is unique because it exists at an intersection between campus and community activism. Community organizer Pam Swider, director of STARS, first became involved with TBTN Ann Arbor 11 years ago.
“I am a survivor myself, and I wanted to do something to give back,” Swider said. “When I was going through therapy, Take Back the Night was important to me so I always kind of imagined participating.”
Swider believes TBTN Ann Arbor is strengthened by the constant presence of certain community members which complements the transient nature of student leaders as they periodically graduate and move away.
“I think it’s important to see that the community cares and that they can come together to help,” Swider said.
This year’s TBTN event was “Uplifting Voices.” Organizers made an effort over the years to showcase intersectionality in the event. Swider said this year, TBTN’s theme attempts to reflect an increased sense of inclusion.
“We want to recognize that we can’t know everything, but we want to celebrate everyone,” Kozlowski said.
Schouman said she hopes efforts to combat sexual assault will expand as the variety of those identities which are actively welcomed into spaces such as TBTN increases.
“We’re trying to have an air of inclusivity,” Schouman said. “…It’s obviously not a just a women’s issue, it’s obviously not just a white person’s issue, like bringing everybody into that space.”
Schouman discussed the power the march has to spread its message throughout the community.
“People will stare at you but there’s also people that will applaud you going by,” Schouman said. “If they find out that this is what it’s for, they might get angry, or they might be like ‘Oh I didn’t know this was something we had in Ann Arbor’ and like it can spark that sort of interest … It’s definitely about causing a disturbance to start a conversation.”
The event’s keynote speaker was Internet performer, poet and actor Kevin Kantor. Kantor shared their experience as a queer victim of sexual assault. Kantor appreciated how TBTN Ann Arbor made a special effort to recognize the stories of non-female sexual assault survivors.
“This is what I like,” Kantor said. “This is the unity.”
Kantor encouraged survivors to be “selfish” in their recovery and said people are more than their survivorship.
“You deserve joy,” Kantor said. “You deserve your rage. Get to work.”
Throughout the night, speakers echoed a repeated call to action. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recorded a video for the rally to be played in her absence, in which she encouraged attendees to also “get to work.”
LSA freshman Chloe Carlson attended the event as an ally with sisters from the University’s feminist sorority, Zeta Omega Eta. She said there is still a lot of work to be done through the feminist movement.
“I feel like it’s gotten better, then it’s gotten worse,” Carlson said.
Schouman also emphasized the importance of involving as many people as possible in the cause.
“Whether you have a story, or not, whether you’ve told your story before, or you haven’t, or if you’re even just an ally just to be here and to celebrate survivors and taking a stand against sexual assault…we’re glad that you’re here,” Schouman said.
Engineering junior Rosie Van Alsburg, also a member of Zeta Omega Eta, hopes she and her sisters’ presence will show survivors they have support on campus.
“I hope just being here will let survivors know that we’re here for them,” Van Alsburg said.