Monday, March 9, saw over 400 UWG students, faculty and staff band together to take a stand against sexual assault at the second annual Take Back the Night event. The Responsible Sexual Committee, Health Services, Peer Education & Wolf Wellness, West Georgia Rape Crisis Center, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the Women’s Studies Department collaborated to bring this event to UWG.
Take Back the Night began at 7 p.m. as the sun was setting and night was falling. Despite the high chance of showers and a few droplets of rain, the event saw a great turnout and support for the cause. Participants met at the East Commons Dining Center and marched around Ingram Library until finally arriving at the HPE gym. Once there, the Men of Courage and Empowered Women kicked off the event by reading their lines from the university’s public service announcements (PSA).
The audience cheered after every line, but based on the hoots and hollers the crowd favorites were definitely “I’m not a slut, whore, hoe or bitch, and neither is she” from the Empowered Women and “Stop planning on getting someone drunk so you can score. It’s not a game, it’s rape” from the Men of Courage.
Elizabeth Butts, the Health & Wellness Promotion Coordinator, and McKenzi Walker, a UWG graduate student, spearheaded the event’s coordination.
“Take Back the Night was a great demonstration by our student body with a wide range of student organizations represented in solidarity against sexual assault,” said Butts. “I was impressed by the respect and responsiveness of those attending.”
In addition to the presentation made by the Men of Courage and Empowered Women, guest speakers were invited to share their stories of sexual assault or violence. To find women willing to participate in such an emotionally taxing display, Walker reached out to various members of campus organizations.
“There are different organizations on campus that bring awareness to these issues year-round,” said Walker. “A lot of them are all-female groups that have group sessions where they share their personal experiences and testimony, so I asked them if they would be willing to do that on a larger scale.”
Take Back the Night coincided with the launch day for UWG’s latest Protect Our Pack campaign and PSA, “Empowered UWG Women.” Similar to the Men of Courage campaign launched on Feb. 9, the Empowered Women campaign encourages students to speak out against sexual assault on campus, and emphasizes to women their right to choose and right to withdraw consent at any time.
“The Protect Our Pack campaign is important because it sends the message to our UWG community that we are all responsible for each other’s well-being, especially when it comes to protecting from sexual violence,” said Butts. “The campaign not only raises awareness, it promotes positive bystander intervention and reinforces the need to seek help if impacted by sexual violence.”
While in the original stages of planning this campaign nearly a year ago, Butts and Walker wondered how they would find students willing to not only participate in such a delicate topic, but also who would be willing to lead the pack.
“We asked faculty members to recommend students that stood out to them as people who would be willing to take a stand against this issue,” said Walker.
The first face in the Empowered UWG Women PSA, Student Government Association President Sandra Santiago, is one of the many women who has taken the It’s On Us pledge. Santiago had seen other It’s On Us campaigns from universities nationwide and worked with Butts and Walker on meeting the requirements for UWG to sign the pledge.
The national campaign asks universities to do more than just sign their name; they are required to host events and raise awareness on campus through other methods as well. While most of the universities focused on campaigns and PSAs with men promising to speak out or hold each other accountable, Butts thought to design a campaign empowering women as well.
“For me, it’s about respect and living up to the values I want to uphold,” said Santiago. “I hope other students see it like that as well.”
The Men of Courage and Empowered Women will do more than just being a pretty face for the national campaign. Butts hopes they will pilot a culture change at UWG and encourage other students to join them in the It’s On Us pledge.
“The Men of Courage and Empowered Women will continue to lead by example and to share messages of courage and empowerment in attempts to change the culture at UWG,” said Butts.