From April 18-22 the BC Women’s Center put on another successful CARE Week—a week of programming focused around the problem of sexual violence, designed to educate, honor victims, and incite change in our community. This year’s events included a special focus on intersectionality between sexual violence and other issues of oppression. Specifically, the week included events that highlighted the ways race and sexual orientation relate to sexual violence. However, the main event of the week was Take Back the Night, an event hosted on many campuses across the country.
This year, the faculty speaker was John McDargh, Associate Professor of Theology, who teaches the popular course Spirituality and Sexuality. He offered a brief reflection on the night, in light of the Jewish festival of Passover which was only days away. He focused on one line from the Passover Seder prayers as inspiration for the night: “Tonight is different than all other nights because tonight we speak the truth.”
McDargh proceeded to touch on how this idea of truth telling can be helpful and even necessary if we wish to honor victims and bring about actual change. He offered a few anecdotes from his own experience—mostly dealing with student experiences of sexual violence—as examples of the sort of truth he had to come to terms with in order to deal with the issue.
McDargh specifically mentioned the privilege and protection he enjoys, simply by nature of being a white male. He told the story of a time when a female student of his needed to drop off a draft of a paper late at night, when he lived in Jamaica Plain. The student was uncomfortable walking from the T stop to his house alone that night, and he at first did not realize why that was the case. The student had to tell him explicitly that she was worried about the threat of men who would be waiting outside bars late on a Saturday night. McDargh’s honesty and ability to notice his initial ignorance of the issue invited students to reflect on how they may not realize the ways that other students with different gender and sexual identities might be at higher risk of experiencing sexual violence.
The two student speakers who followed McDargh offered their own stories as victims of sexual violence. One student, who had been sexually assaulted many years ago, displayed through her story the tragic reality that even young girls within our society are at risk. The other student, who had been assaulted the summer before her freshman year, told of the various emotional and physical ramifications of her traumatic experience. Both women spoke about how they had been blamed for their assault and felt at various times unable or unwilling to seek the help they needed. Their stories and reflections highlighted the many ways in which our society still fails to adequately support our brothers and sisters who have already suffered so much.
In light of McDargh’s opening thoughts, these two women’s reflections took on even greater meaning. Their ability to be honest about what happened and how they coped (or didn’t cope) shed light on the darkness that still shrouds stories such as theirs. They truly lived out McDargh’s prayer, that “tonight we [would] speak truth.”
The evening closed with a new element that had not been included in past years. Attendees of the event were invited on a solidarity walk to take back our campus by lighting the dark places. Participants were invited to walk through lower campus with candles, leaving their candles by a place they may themselves have felt unsafe, or simply by a dark place they wished to see redeemed. The walk served as a reminder that sexual violence happens on our own campus and that, regardless of statistics, even one victim is too many.