Taking Back the Night: Hundreds gather for annual awareness event

Photos by Jordie Oetken/Contributing photographer

Photos by Jordie Oetken/Contributing photographer

Murray State students and community members alike rallied on Cutchin Field to “Take Back the Night” on campus Tuesday evening. Hundreds of people attended the program organized by the Murray State Women’s Center.

Murray State adopted the program in 1993 from Germany’s protests against the fears women experienced walking the streets at night which began in 1973. San Francisco, Calif., was the first city in the United States to host the rally in 1978.

The Murray State Women’s Center continues the annual tradition to increase awareness about abusive relationships and violence against women with special attention to rapes and sexual assault incidents that occur on campus. The event is designed to educate students and community members.

“We really just want students to be aware of the prevalence and of the dramatic effects that (violence) has on people,” said Abigail French, interim Women’s Center director.

Stephanie Smith, a student worker at the Women’s Center, agreed with French.

“The Women’s Center hosts this event because it represents the core of what we do,” Smith said. “Our mission is to raise awareness and prevent these acts from happening, and also help women and men affected by these issues.”

This was the 20th year the event has occurred on campus. Each year the event transpires a little differently as more and more students get involved, bringing in a bigger crowd every year.

Many months of preparation were necessary to organize the event. Booking speakers, musicians and survivors is only the half of it.

“We start contacting the speakers and musicians back in the summer,” French said. “Once school gets back into swing, we start scheduling people for staging and mics, then we start publicizing the event a couple weeks after school starts.”

President Randy Dunn and members of the Student Government Association hold candles in honor and memory of sufferers of abuse.

The housing department, Student Government Association and a handful of sororities and fraternities all aided in the organization of the event.

Beginning at 5:45 p.m., the University Chorale sang as the crowd settled in, spreading blankets across the field for seating.

Ninety-eight empty chairs lined the edge of the field, each representing Kentucky victims who lost their lives to domestic violence or sexual abuse between 2008 and 2011.

At 6 p.m., Aaron Dail, executive director of United Way of Murray-Calloway County, opened the session with his story of a girl who confided in him the background of her life and the abuse through which she had gone.

Dail proceeded to speak about finding help for the girl. He ended his speech by stating the overall theme of “Take Back the Night.”

“What tonight is about is giving you the opportunity to understand, get educated and be available to listen or to allow someone to get their message out.” Dail said.

Immediately following his story, The Muses of Sigma Alpha Iota entertained the audience with a song called “The Prayer.”

Several individuals participated by sharing poems about their experiences.

A survivor, Melanie McCallon, read a poem about her experience with abuse, and the heartfelt recital rendered a loud applause from the audience.

Shortly after, Griggori Taylor recited an original poem written for the occasion.

The slam poetry was full of emotion for both the speaker and the audience.

Following Taylor’s poem, The Suspensions sang the popular song, “Apologize” by One Republic.

Another survivor, Audra Napp, then took the stage. She spoke of her journey to healing.

“If you’re suffering in silence, share,” Napp encouraged.

Samuel Hawkins of the Boys and Girls Club of America then recited his original poem entitled “12:01.”

The event continued with a call to action speech given by Allyson Taylor, counselor at Murray State’s Counseling Services. She explained the different ways to help people in situations of abuse. She said listening and believing their stories and never judging the victims by their past are ways to help put a stop to the silence surrounding the issue of abuse.

“I was very interested in hearing the stories and experiences people were sharing,” said Nicole King, freshman from Hopkinsville, Ky.

In closing the ceremony, faculty, staff, students and the members of the Student Government Association made a pledge, refusing to be a part of domestic abuse and violence against women.

“I enjoyed the men’s pledge the most,” Kayla Toering, graduate student from St. Paul, Minn., said. “I feel them taking a stand is the best.”

The men who pledged carried unlit candles and lined the sidewalk as the audience exited past the empty chairs, remembering those who lost their lives.

Story by Hunter Harrell, Contributing Writer