Dear Fraternities, We Are Taking Back…Take Back The Night
A few weeks ago, hazing complaints at Coastal Carolina University resulted in the suspension of three of five fraternities on campus, Kappa Sigma, Tau Kappa Epsilon and Pi Kappa Phi fraternities. This development echoed local and national concerns regarding fraternities and their reoccurring failure to recognize boundaries and appropriate behavior. For this reason, as members of the Coastal Carolina Community, we are respectfully asking fraternity members do not attend Take Back the Night for the purposes of rallying for Homecoming or self-promotion but only attend if they would have otherwise- as survivors of sexual assault or humble allies.
This week is Sexual Violence Awareness Week, which is a series of events that provide space for important discussion and much needed education about sexual violence and consent. Sexual Violence Awareness Week includes Tuesday, October 7th’s Take Back The Night, however, this event is not meant to serve as an educative piece or as an invitation for general admission. Take Back The Night is a collective march across campus, composed of survivors of sexual assault, a vast majority being women given their over-representation in assaults. In suit with its name, the purpose of Take Back the Night is for survivors to literally take back the night. It is not an event, as previously held, to accumulate points for a Homecoming competition. It is not a space to plug your fraternity and “rep your letters.” Most of all, it is not a space where survivors should be put in a position where they not only carry the responsibility of educating disinterested groups about how to behave, but also be put into the position where they have to justify their stories, experiences, and presence to attending fraternity members who have made a mockery of the event in the past.
Last year’s Take Back the Night was seen as troubling for many survivors, as previously reported in a national write-up. “As part of CCU’s annual homecoming competition, Greek organizations [were] able to win points for attending certain MultiCultural events — including sexual assault awareness programs. This result[ed] in disinterested frat members showing up at sexual assault panels/events en masse, which can create a very antagonistic environment… In one such instance members of the Greek community were obligated to go to a Take Back the Night  rally and reportedly made attendees uncomfortable by making loud and sarcastic comments.” Moreover, the focus and publicity was later directed to these very fraternities, repurposing their inappropriate participation as a marketing platform, implying Coastal is a safe place for women demonstrated by the fraternities’ attendance and “support.”
Coastal, however, is not a safe place for women because we know 1 in 4 women on college campuses report having survived rape or attempted rape and these fraternities are not representative of the people who dedicate their lives to working on these types of issues the other 364 days of the year. Last year, Pi Kappa Phi specifically, showed disrespect by taking the signs made by women, including ones that said, “My dress is not a yes,” trivializing and mocking the meanings of the signs. The fraternity then proved to be a trigger for some survivors.
One student anonymously submitted in reflection of last year’s event, “The loud male voices shouting in the back of the crowd – not following along with the chants of the rest of the group – made survivors like me feel overpowered at our own event where we are supposed to be taking our power back! The speak out was extremely tense and uncomfortable, and many survivors felt silenced in our own space. Take Back the Night is not the event to come to if you are not a survivor or ally. Take Back the Night is not the time to take the power and voices away from survivors. This is our one night. One. Night. Sexual assault is not only a social justice issue, but a public health issue. It is rampant and embedded in our culture and until we address that (and address the events of last year’s Take Back the Night as evidence of such) the problem cannot be solved.”
Another student submitted, “I didn’t attend because I feared it would turn into exactly what it did. It’s really unfortunate and disheartening in an analytical sense. For one, that a survivor was intimidated out of attending an event designated specifically for them and, two that it could be so easily predicted that it would go poorly. It blows my mind that I had the foresight to know the combination of homecoming points, fraternities in attendance, lack of education, and already proven hostile climate was a combination bound to create turmoil. This year, I feel I am attending out of obligation and oversight. For me, I do not personally want to go but I feel I need to go to ensure it isn’t coopted and to be there as support for people I care about if, God forbid, there is a repeat of last year…Dr. Decenzo is planning to speak. I have not personally known him to be a fellow activist on campus. I hope his remarks are genuine and limited to his experience as a person and not as a representative for the university. He carries a powerful position as president which, if not minded, can belittle, undermine and, honestly, insult the work and autonomy of those of us who have been on the front lines every day.”
So, in gist, why are we taking back Take Back the Night? It is one night out of the year for survivors of sexual violence and their close allies to join together in solidarity of one another’s experiences. It’s a time for survivors to feel comfortable enough to share if they feel compelled to do so. Please respect the space. Respect the purpose and intent of the event. Respect who this is for and who chooses to speak or not speak out. We encourage you to attend all the other events next week to have deep, important conversation on sexual violence and consent. Come to the Got Consent student talk and panel discussion, for example, Monday, October 6th at 6 in Wall 118. The talk and panel will be peer led in hopes of students hearing out other students, and it will also provide important information and resources on these issues. Students will talk about rape culture and its role on our campus. Show support. Have important conversations. Learn important information, and gain knowledge of resources on campus, in our community, and in our country. Most importantly, respect boundaries and respect the triggers of survivors and our allies. Allow survivors and allies a safe and comfortable space to TAKE BACK THE NIGHT!
-Coastal Carolina Survivors and Humble Allies