On Tuesday night students and faculty gathered in the cool fall weather at the steps of Alumni Hall. Huddled together in some semblance of a circle, people talked in low voices, a prelude of the silence to come. Why silence? To show respect, and honor, for what was going to take place.
Take Back the Night required all of those things, and more. It’s a yearly event put on by the student-run organization, Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), during which participants walk from one dorm to the next. At each stop, a survivor of sexual assault steps forward and shares their own story of survival.
Tyler Polansky, a sophomore and member of SAVE, did the introduction, detailing how the night would go. A slow procession along campus, guided by candlelight. The lights were passed out, and it was easy to feel a strong sense of community and belonging as people offered flames from their own candles to light that of their neighbor’s. Once everyone was all set, the silence came, and the stories began.
They were hard to hear, but entirely necessary. They were real and revealing, and you could hear as some voices wavered. But even then, each person who spoke showed an extraordinary amount of strength. There were common themes weaved throughout the orations. Uncertainty following the aftermath of the assault. Was it really an assault? Were they just overreacting? Emotions like shame, guilt, and embarrassment, seemed to be a shared burden. Yet there were also affirmations. The speakers spoke of how they grew to own their experiences. However, one survivor asserted that though she was owning her experience, she wasn’t accepting it. Meaning, she knew it happened. She wouldn’t ignore that fact. But she wasn’t planning on letting it take away from who she was. That was the strongest correlation between each story: owning the assault, but not letting it be the end. The final speaker summed it up beautifully, quoting poet Rupi Kaur: “The rape will tear you in half but it will not end you.”
Gary Enright, the associate director of the college’s counseling center, and advisor to SAVE, shared the experience of a past student. Her experience dated back to 1988, which is really not too long ago. He spoke of how her assault occurred right on campus in a residence hall. She’d gone to the counseling center, but couldn’t put what she’d gone through into words. Two years later, she was able to venture back, and as Enright put it, “She learned to survive, but also how to thrive. And then, she soared.”
This student’s name wasn’t revealed, but her story has long-reaching effects. She told Enright that if sharing her story might possibly help someone, she wanted it to be shared. After sharing it with his students and encouraging them to help him develop a monologue around it, a student brought SAVE (which is a national organization) to Springfield College in 2002. With it came events and projects like Take Back the Night, The Vagina Monologues, and the Clothesline Project, just to name a few.
The importance of SAVE and the events it puts together cannot be understated. Kerri O’Rourke, a student here at Springfield College and treasurer of SAVE, remarked, “This is one of those events that silently move more people than you think, even if they’re just passing us on the road. It might change one person’s perspective on life, or one person will realize that they’re not in the wrong and it wasn’t their fault. If we just change one person’s mindset, that’ll help.”
Polansky said, “SAVE wants to empower, not only women, but everybody out there to share their stories and shatter that silence of violence.”
Sophomore Emma Wertz, one of the women who shared their stories, said, “It’s really important that college campuses address the sexual assault problem and that survivors are able to share their stories. It’s not something you should have to be ashamed of because it’s not your fault. I love this event and I feel so loved and supported.”
President Mary-Beth Cooper was one of the near fifty people in attendance on Tuesday, and followed that sentiment. She explained, “I think that the courage that it took these young women to tell their stories was humbling and unbelievable. I am appreciative of their ability to tell their stories so others can understand this issue better, and I am honored by their stories and their willingness to share them. We have a lot of work to do and we’re not anywhere near done. We will continue to bring this front and center and talk about it. I think peer-led, student leadership on this is incredibly powerful because students really appreciate hearing from each other.”
The night ended as solemnly as it had begun, with the chill of the night paired with the warmth of community. People were invited to gather to address what they might be feeling, both positive and negative. The words that were used were more of the former, words like “empowered,” “inspired,” and “humbled.” One phrase stood out amongst the rest: “Not alone.”
Not alone. That brought to mind a statement made by another one of the speakers. She said, “I’m not asking for pity, just for support.” Support can make all the difference in an ordeal as trying as sexual assault. If you know or suspect that someone has been the victim of a sexual assault, be there for them. Listen, without judgement. Urge them to reach out for help. The campus’s counseling center is an excellent place to start.
And if you yourself have been the victim of an assault, please remember that you are not alone.
Springfield College Department of Public Safety: (413) 748-5555
Administrator on Call: (413) 748-5555
24/7 support for emergency residential changes and access to support services
YWCA Sexual and Domestic Violence Hotline: (413) 733-7100 (confidential)
24/7 hotline to support survivors of domestic and sexual violence
Medical advocacy: Providing survivors support while at the hospital following a violent incident
Legal advocacy: Accompany survivors to court and assist with restraining orders
Springfield Police Department: (413) 787-6302
Springfield College Counseling Center: (413) 748-3345 (confidential)
Provide students with free and confidential counseling by appointment Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (excluding holidays).
The counselor-on-call can be reached after business hours by calling the Department of Public Safety and asking for the counselor-on-call.
Baystate Medical Center: (413) 794-3233 (confidential)
Mercy Medical Center: (413) 748-9000 (confidential)
If you’d like to join SAVE you can email the organization at: firstname.lastname@example.org