Students rally against assault

Students stand in front of Pattee Library during the annual Take Back the Night rally and march last night.

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Take Back the Night aimed to stop sexual violence against women.

They stopped traffic. They turned heads. They shared stories and regained power.

Last night, hundreds of participants took part in Penn State's 16th annual Take Back the Night rally and march.

Take Back the Night is an international movement which began in England and aims to stop violence and sexual assault against women.

The evening began with speakers on the steps of Old Main and proceeded with a march to various campus and town locations where people could share stories in confidentiality.

People congregated before the rally's scheduled start at 6 p.m., and friends helped pin teal blue awareness ribbons to one another. Local band Major Ordained performed until the official beginning of the rally with a song written for survivors of sexual assault and violence. All proceeds from the band's compact disc, which was on sale at the rally, will go to the Centre County Women's Resource Center.

Some people in the crowd wore white armbands, while others wore pink. The white armband indicated counselors from the Center for Women Students who were available throughout the evening for people feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Pink indicated survivors and members of the local group Women of Courage.

Former Undergraduate Student Government President Matt Roan was in the crowd, as were Penn State administrators Art Carter, assistant vice president of the Office of Student Affairs, and Bill Asbury, vice president for student affairs. Penn State President Graham Spanier was not seen at the rally. Last year, Spanier was the first university president to attend a Take Back the Night event and organizers said they gave him an invitation to come this year as well.

Anne Ard, director of the Centre County Women's Resource Center, was the first speaker at the rally.

"I am both delighted and saddened to welcome you here," she said.

She said that she was happy that so many people were showing support or coming forward to share experiences, but disappointed that the community is still not safe from rape and sexual assault.

The next speaker, Jennifer Solt, USG director of Women's Affairs, shared how her survival of rape made her more involved in issues that Take Back the Night addresses.

"I think you all know that (rape and sexual assault) is in fact an epidemic on college campuses," she said.

Peggy Lorah, assistant director of the Center for Women Students, cited statistics and said about 100 women report sexual assaults at Penn State each year.

"The logical consequence of drinking too much is a hangover, not a sexual assault," Lorah said. "The logical consequence of not being covered from head to toe is being cold, not a sexual assault."

Dora McQuaid, Penn State faculty member and co-founder of Women of Courage, a survivors group, was last to speak at the rally. After proudly pointing out the pink armband that she wore, McQuaid read three of her poems to the crowd.

After McQuaid's speech, Lynn Thompson, co-director of Womyn's Concerns and one of the organizers of last night's event, told the crowd how the march would begin. People stepped up to carry a Take Back the Night banner and over 100 marchers followed behind it. Two bullhorns were used to lead the crowd in chants as they walked to Pattee Library for their first stop.

"What do we want?" "No rape!" "When do we want it?" "NOW!" they yelled in unison.

The group created a circle in front of Pattee Library where anyone could pick up a microphone and share a personal story.

"Inside that circle is the safest place we can make tonight," Thompson said.

Some people shared their own experiences with a crowd for the first time. Others read letters from people who could not attend the march. Members of the circle offered support.

Throughout the night, marchers braved snow flurries, freezing temperatures and shouts from windows, standing in circles with glowing candles in hand. The group picked up new members and drew curious students to windows at its East Halls stop.

When the group loudly chanted its way into the center of Pollock Halls, someone started blasting music from a dormitory window. The refrain of the song was very clear — "College girls are easy."

"That's just ignorant," said Nick Marsilio (junior-crime law and justice) on hearing the lyrics. Marsilio was one of the many men at the event. Many women thanked the men for attending last night.

After the marchers finished sharing at Pollock, the group separated. The men all went to a program and discussion hosted by Men Stopping Rape, while the women continued the march into downtown State College, where they stopped at Fraternity Row before closing at Central Parklet.

In her rally speech, Solt made a comment that was echoed many times throughout the night and summed up part of the purpose of the evening.

"Suddenly I realized I was not alone," she said.