Rally planned to 'Take Back Night'

Rally planned to 'Take Back Night'

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It has been a long road for the marchers who will rally against sexual assault tonight at the 17th annual Take Back the Night.

For years, they have endured shouts of "We want rape," "Men are number one," and "Go home, bitch."

They have listened to yells of "Get back to your f---ing kitchens," and "All you girls want is to get f---ed." They have been called "dykes" and "whores."

Sometimes, they have silently defied the whistles and shouts. Other times, they have drowned out the hecklers with their own chants: "What do we want? No rape! When do we want it? Now!"

Occasionally, the marchers have encountered problems along Fraternity Row.

" 'No means yes, take off your dress,' is one I remember," said Laurie Rosenberger, co-director of Womyn's Concerns, her voice choking with emotion.

Dora McQuaid, a lecturer in communications sciences and technology, also remembered the heckling along Fraternity Row last year.

"My initial response was an unbelievable sense of sadness, but I wasn't surprised at all, because violence against women is so damn rampant," said McQuaid, who is a founding member of Women of Courage, a group that works to end violence against women.

Her sadness, she said, was both for the women who had to endure the taunting and for the men who were doing it.

"Jesus, how did we get this divided?" she remembered thinking. "It made me sad for the guys who were doing it. I mean truly, how pathetic are they?"

But she said the harassment indicates the march's strength.

"When people retaliate like that, they feel threatened," she said. "Obviously, there was a threat to their power, or their privilege, or their self or group identity. Anytime you deal with that retaliation, you're doing good work. You're pissing people off."

The periodic harassment along Fraternity Row, McQuaid and Rosenberger said, was not a reflection of all fraternity members, who often applaud, chant along and light candles.

Harassment from fraternity members will not be tolerated, Interfraternity Council President Max Pipman said.

"This is an event we really stand strongly behind," he said.

And despite the long list of incidents of harassment, Rosenberger says she thinks the climate is improving.

"On campus, it's gotten much better from the time I got here," she said.

Bulletin boards have been designed in most dorms, and the current issue of Stall Stories contains an article about the march, said Diane Andrews, senior associate director of Residence Life.

"We're trying to get the word out about what it is and when it's taking place," she said.

What Rosenberger wants observers to remember, she said, is that the people marching are human beings, with real feelings and true accounts to share.

"Those aren't numbers. Those are people's stories of what happened to them," Rosenberger said.

A chorus of stories

When Lauren Pilnick walked to the steps of Old Main last April to attend her first Take Back the Night, she had no idea that she would soon be standing in front of the crowd telling her story of sexual assault.

Pilnick (junior-women studies and crime, law and justice) is a rape survivor who credits her impromptu speech at the march -- an event she calls "pro-woman" and "empowering" -- as an integral point in her recovery.

Her friend held her hand as she walked to the center of the circle and talked about being assaulted by an acquaintance during her freshman year.

"I just thought it was one of the single most amazing events I've ever gone to," Pilnick said. "It's just a night when women try to get their voices back after someone tried to silence them."

She said hearing so many other people speaking helped her know that she wasn't alone.

Take Back The Night, now an international movement, began in England in 1977. Penn State became involved in 1985, and this year's rally will begin at 6 tonight on the steps of Old Main.

The evening will begin with a rally that will include music by Essence of Joy and speeches by student leaders, faculty members and activists. Jan Jacobs, vice president for administration, is among the scheduled speakers. Penn State President Graham Spanier will attend the rally, but not the march.

After the rally, the crowd will march through campus and downtown. At several stops along the route, the crowd will form a circle and survivors of sexual assault will be invited to walk to the center of the circle and share their experiences.

This year, as in the last two years, men can march with women through campus, but they will attend a discussion in the Grandfather Clock Lounge in Atherton Hall as the women march downtown.

Jon Grindell, spokesman for the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, said the event is empowering for men and women.

It was amazing to hear sexual assault survivors tell their stories last year, he said.

"To be able to do that and trust other people -- because trust is one of the things that's taken away from you when you're assaulted -- it blows my mind," Grindell said.

He thought, "Wow, it could be anyone."

A lasting impact

The impact of Take Back the Night lingers long after the march for many, including Pilnick.

She wrote a poem about her experiences at last year's march, and now, as part of an independent study class, she visits classrooms to read her poem and discuss sexual assault.

As the last scheduled speaker at tonight's rally, she will read her poem.

"(Take Back the Night) is really about just trying to take control back over your body after having that control taken away from you," she said.