Last night, Womanspace, an organization dedicated to women empowerment, hosted the 24th annual Take Back the Night rally in the Wesley Foundation, with a candlelight march through campus and downtown Blacksburg.
According to Susan Anderson, senior instructor of mathematics and faculty advisor for Womanspace, the rally helps to raise awareness of violence against women.
“(It helps) people understand that violence occurs in every community, including our own,” Anderson said.
Soulful music and invigorating drums amped up the energy just before the event, where multiple speakers shared their messages and victims told their stories, all as part of the experience that inspires those in attendance.
The rally featured speakers from organizations including the Woman’s Center at Virginia Tech, Cook Counseling Center, Montgomery County NOW, Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley, and others.
“You hear survivors and (see) how it hasn’t defined them, that they are resilient and they want to take back the night,” said Alyssa Seidorf, junior management major, president of Womanspace and coordinator of the event.
However, the march following the rally serves an entirely different purpose.
“We believe that all the participants marching together, chanting the same chants will help create a sense of community and solidarity among the participants and energize them and empower them,” said Anderson. “We hope that when we come back to the rally site, all that energy can be used to make a commitment to help create change.”
During the march, what empowers people is their ability to show anger about these issues.
“Being able to be loud in a public place; we can go out on the street and express (emotions) and know that we’re in a safe place to do that, that we’re surrounded by people that champion the effort to end violence,” Seidorf said.
This year, high school freshman, Claire Raimist, founder of a chapter of Help Save the Next Girl at Walkersville High School in Frederick, Md., and other members of the club traveled five hours to march with the Virginia Tech chapter.
Raimist, who started the group in memory of her friend Annalee Marshall, former Hokie and member of Help Save the Next Girl, was pleasantly surprised at the turn out last night.
“Being here and talking to everyone, I just can’t believe how many people want to take action,” Raimist said.
Changes in the types of people that want to take action have been evident to Anderson over the years. Most notably, Womanspace wants to see an increase in male participation.
“If everybody isn’t trying to make positive change, change is incredibly slow,” Anderson said. “You really need both men and women working to create change together.”
Steven Lyle, a junior chemistry major who attended the event, has a relative who has endured violence and agrees that men should play a role.
“Women’s violence affects everyone, and that’s men included,” Lyle said. “Everyone needs to be aware of it and everyone should care about it.”
Seidorf has noticed the value of male presence in her experience with the event.
“As women, we need to band together and stand up for ourselves and take back the night, but we welcome all people, including men, to help us in that,” Seidorf said. “It’s a collective effort to end violence and men are 100 percent involved with that.”
One of the male speakers at the event, representing the White Ribbon Campaign, which encourages men to help stop violence against women, was senior psychology major and member of Womanspace Thomas Friss. He joined the cause as a sophomore after seeing the Womanspace slogan, “Support without Shame.”
“I always thought the victim blaming and slut shaming… was very wrong — something seemed off,” Friss said. “(I’m) just trying to do something, even if it’s just yelling the exact same message other people have been yelling for so long.”
Anderson urges newcomers and people of all ages, both male and female, to participate.
“I would encourage everyone to come out to the event,” Anderson said. “No matter how much you know about violence in our community, you’ll always learn something new.”