Student organizers of Take Back the Night, the international movement to stop sexual violence, appreciate that the event at Kenyon happens early in the school year in a time known as the red zone, when students nationwide report the most assaults.
Many campuses traditionally hold Take Back the Night events in the spring. “This is such a big moment for the incoming freshman class,” said Peter Granville ’16, co-chair of the event at Kenyon that ran from Sept. 13-19. “I just really want that to be a moment of success for them in that they sense that … the school is unified in a way that benefits them and that it’s a space for healthy relationships to thrive.”
Jack Ahern ’19 and Luisa Estrada ’19 attended a Take Back the Night-sponsored session of Weaver Wednesday, the weekly recreational social in Weaver Cottage sponsored by the Student Activities Office and hosted by a different student organization each week. At the event, Ahern and Estrada said as soon as students arrive on campus, the College heavily emphasizes the importance of asking a partner for consent. Many people are available to counsel students about consent, sexual assault and domestic violence, from professionals trained in Title IX issues to advisors in Beer & Sex, a student group that promotes upperclassmen bonding with first-year students to help them navigate Kenyon’s social culture.
Madi Thompson ’16, another Weaver Wednesday attendee, said early education about these difficult topics is a necessity. “You need to start talking about it as soon as you get to campus,” she said.
Granville and Christina Franzino ’16, the other Take Back the Night co-chair, took the event in a few new directions this year. They offered a Take Back the Night 101 session for students new to these issues, and they held a semi-formal dance in the Gund Commons Ballroom that raised money and supplies for New Directions, the domestic violence shelter in Mount Vernon. The dance, called the Light Up the Night Gala, featured mocktails and toasts by Kenyon administrators to a year of campus unity and awareness.
Other activities throughout the week included survivor and supporter group meetings, a self-defense class and an all-perspectives discussion about the portrayal of unhealthy relationships in the media.
Students at the Weaver Wednesday session shared some of their ideas about consent. Sonia Calzaretta ’18 said that if people are comfortable enough to be intimate, they should feel comfortable to check in with each other. “Communication is so important in any relationship, especially one like that.”
Thompson said consent does not apply to just one group of people; it’s required in all relationships. “The most important message is that consent is an ongoing conversation.”
Ahern and Estrada said consent might not involve a verbal “yes” or “no.” “Most of the time it’s usually with gestures,” Estrada said. “A vocal ‘yes’ is still important,” Ahern added.
Take Back the Night’s goal, beyond education, is to create a safe space on campus. “Kenyon’s our home for four years, and it’s so incredibly important that members of our community feel safe and feel that they’re heard and listened to,” Franzino said.
– Elana Spivack ’17