Events held Friday and Saturday on Seymour lawn and in Wallace Lounge were parts of Students Against Sexism in Society’s (SASS) Take It Back weekend.
Take Back the Night started in the United States in the late 1970s when women who were adversely affected by things ranging from pornography to rape spoke out about their experiences. Instead of one night of events, SASS wanted to turn it into something more. The group also decided to call the two days of events “Take It Back” instead of Take Back the Night, because each of their events was meant to allow for people to “take back” different parts of their lives.
Friday night saw the opening of the “Love Your Body” photo shoot along with discussions about sexual assault on campus on and off the Knox campus. These events were originally planned to start at 7:30 p.m., but were moved to 9:30 because of Lo Nuestro’s presentation of Teatro Luna’s “S-E-X-Oh.” Many members of SASS felt that Lo Nuestro’s event shared many of SASS’s goals and many attended both groups’ events that night.
The “Love Your Body” photo shoot opened up on Seymour lawn. This event had been advertised to people of all genders and was meant to be a way for people to “take back” their bodies. Many of the models took nude photos, although complete nudity was not a requirement. Two projectors showcased an hour’s worth of photos on two large screens set up on the lawn. Many people sat in the grass, watching the slideshow, while others ate snacks, which included a chocolate fountain, provided by SASS and read through provided information about sexual assault, including rape myths, ways to prevent sexual violence, information for male victims of sexual violence, and the SASS grievance panel reform demands among other things.
After the opening of the photo shoot, the group went into a discussion about sexual assault. The purpose of the discussion was to give participants a safe place to “take back” their voice and talk about their experiences with sexual assault. Senior Kelli Refer and sophomore Ashley Atkinson co-headed the healing committee that helped organize this discussion, while senior Ellen Vessels headed the consciousness raising committee. Freshman Gabriel Hernandez-Paz headed the men’s discussion.
Before the discussion started, it was explained that it was meant to be a form of consciousness rising, which, as Vessels described it, is an organizing strategy through which people learn from each other. They also laid down some ground rules for the discussion and emphasized the fact that it was meant to be a safe place for people to talk and that people should be open-minded and respectful.
The group attending the discussion was then broken up into separate men’s and women’s groups to discuss sexual assault before the groups were reunited at the end of the night. This was done in an attempt to make the first discussion as comfortable as possible by keeping it among members of the same sex before finally bringing everyone back together.
The women’s group started their discussion with a speed writing exercise in which they were instructed to write for five minutes straight about an experience they had had with sexual assault or their thoughts about the subject. Once that exercise was done, participants were allowed to share what they wrote about or other experiences they had had with sexual assault, and others were allowed to respond.
Hernandez-Paz said that the men’s group had a good discussion, but that it had its ups and downs because some of the men felt despondent over the size of their group, feeling that they would not be able to accomplish much with only 12 men participating.
“We had this really good talk about how to make Knox safer for everybody in general…and then [some of the members of the group] just left. I think they were legitimately just bored, and they left,” said Hernandez-Paz.
The men’s discussion ended before the women’s discussion, and Hernandez-Paz thought that had a part in keeping some of the men from joining the larger group discussion at the end.
“I think that if there wasn’t a big gap between when the [men’s discussion] stopped and the [women’s discussion] stopped, they would have still stayed,” he said.
Atkinson also heard that people were not completely satisfied with the event Friday.
“What I had heard was that some people, especially for whom it was a required event, they felt like they weren’t included or they expected it to be more like the other Take Back The Nights where there was just a performer….Some people didn’t get involved in the actual discussions,” she said.
Atkinson said that it might be more productive next year to try doing smaller discussions instead.
Originally, a meditation had been planned for the end of the discussions, as a means of ending on a “good note,” but it was cold and the discussion leaders decided that people would not want to stick around. As part of their plan to “take back the entire night,” SASS members set up tents and spent the night camped on Seymour lawn.
On Saturday morning, SASS hosted breakfast after their campout before setting up for their feminist music festival. Because of the possibility for rain, the music festival was set up in Wallace Lounge instead of on Seymour lawn as originally planned. The headlining artists were folk duo Nervous But Excited and original Riot Grrrl Gina Young. Student performances were also encouraged.
“With the musicians the next day, we had a pretty good turn out…Most people seemed to really enjoy them,” said Atkinson.
The music festival was meant to be an opportunity for feminist artists of all genders to “take back” the stage and perform in front of a supportive audience.