“Whoo, take back the night!” yelled one driver as a group of more than 200 students dressed in black passed by the Target Express on Route 1 Tuesday evening. Several cars honked in approval of the group, who responded back with applause and cheers.
Students marched a winding path around campus for Take Back the Night (TBTN), an international movement dedicated to decreasing the stigma many survivors of sexual violence face in their day-to-day lives and creating dialogue and raising awareness about the problem of sexual assault.
Rachel Novick, a junior physiology and neurobiology major, and Andrea Picciotto, a junior hearing and speech sciences major, organized the event in the span of three weeks. Both of them worked on the event as a part of the Tzedek Fellowship, a Jewish social justice group, at Hillel.
Picciotto felt inspired to bring TBTN to this university after hearing of a similar event at the University of North Carolina. She and Novick worked closely with their staff advisor, Talia Orencel, at Hillel to turn the idea from a dream into a reality.
“Walking side-by-side and listening to what happened and getting the chance to see the start of change sparks people’s desires to do something,” Picciotto said.
In addition to Maryland Hillel, sorority Sigma Delta Tau, fraternity Delta Tau Delta, the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Student Education, Maryland Images, CARE and SGA sponsored the event as well.
The people who walked were as varied in their reasons for walking. Fraternity members strode shoulder to shoulder with freshmen and staff members as the group made their way from McKeldin.
Michelle Zemil, a junior Biology major and member of Sigma Delta Tau, said she walked to show support from Greek life on combating sexual assault on campuses.
Marcie Peters, an alumni who majored in computer science, said she walked with the group because she remembers events like TBTN not being a safe space for trans women when she went to school at this university.
“I thought I would come out and represent my own,” Peters said.
Others simply came because they felt the cause mattered.
“It wouldn’t gather so much support in such a face-forward way if it didn’t need to be seen,” Rich Stevens Jr., a senior sociology major who came with Maryland Images, said.
During the walk, different people including SGA President Patrick Ronk spoke and read aloud facts about sexual violence. One fact in particular – 68 percent of sexual assaults go unreported – rendered the group silent for several moments.
The full route took the group behind Memorial Chapel and around Leonardtown to its final destination, Ritchie Coliseum. When they reached the Coliseum, everyone filed into the bleachers for the final stretch of the night.
A speaker from RAINN – the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network – spoke about her personal experiences as a survivor of rape.
“Even now when I go and talk at different events, people tell me they’re uncomfortable and I say, ‘That’s good,” the speaker said.
A woman from CHANA, a Jewish organization that provides resources for victims of abuse, talked about how her group serves, “some of the most vulnerable members of our community.” She read a series of true stories from CHANA, including a woman who was forced into prostitution for grocery money and a man who was stalked by his ex-fiancee.
The mic was then left open for students to share their stories of sexual assault, whether it was their own or the story of someone they knew.
The UMD Treblemakers closed the night with an acapella performance.
With TBTN now behind them, Novick and Picciotto are looking towards their next project, a Dec. 1 screening of Standing Silent, a film about a Jewish journalist fighting to expose sexual abuse within the Baltimore Orthodox community.
“I can’t create change overnight,” Novick said. “Change is a movement and a process.”
Featured Photo Credit: McKeldin Mall. (Julia Lerner/Bloc Reporter)
Rosie Brown is a junior journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.