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The Picardy Thirds a cappella group performs at the Take Back the Night event at the Baker Ballroom in Athens, April 4, 2024.

‘Take Back the Night’ welcomes stories, support

Small paper bags with faux candles lit Baker Ballroom on Thursday in support of Ohio University’s annual “Take Back the Night” event hosted by the Women’s Center and Student Senate. Despite the march being canceled due to poor weather, survivors shared stories and support for all in attendance. 

The evening began at 7 p.m. with an opening speech from Chris Fowler, director of the Women’s Center. She gave her thoughts on how important this event is for the community.

“Acknowledge sexual assault does happen on our campus; research shows that it happens to all genders, all different kinds of people,”  Fowler said. “I think (Take Back the Night) is just helping bring awareness to that. Also, helping to give survivors resources and things like that.”

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People sit for the Take Back the Night event hosted at Baker Ball Room in April 4, 2024, in Athens.

Take Back the Night is the oldest worldwide movement to stand against sexual violence, calling for awareness and an end to relationship and intimate partner violence. According to its official website, one in every three women and one in every six men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. 

OU will typically host the event with speakers followed by a march through Uptown. This time, the event stayed in Baker Ballroom but still had spirits lifted after its conclusion. 

Camryn Smith, a graduate student in the social work program, is a graduate assistant at the Survivor Advocacy Program, or SAP. She was one of the many who were stationed around the room for any survivors who may have found any of the content being discussed triggering. 

Although this year was different because the march was canceled, she believed showing up for everyone present was enough to make them feel seen and heard. 

“I think there are so many ways to fight the fight and to show up for each other,” Smith said. “And I think holding space can look really different. And I think the march is beautiful. Obviously, it has a different effect. But, I still think holding space, sitting in the same space and listening together and watching art and celebrating together is really powerful too.”

Many members of the audience were sporting light blue shirts with the phrase “I will walk with you” with the lamp post logo often associated with Take Back the Night. 

Camryn Smith said her job, although hard at times, enjoys that feeling of togetherness and strength that comes with events like these. 

“It's really emotional,” she said. “But also as an advocate and working with people so closely and survivors on campus, seeing them come together and seeing the support in a bigger space than just in my office, working with folks individually is really cool and empowering and it's awesome to see the growth in that way.”

Five survivors shared their stories, a couple of whom were sharing it in front of an audience for the first time. The safety of the space was a reminder to those in the room: they are not alone. 

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Athens Black Contemporary Dancers perform at the Take Back the Night event hosted at Baker Ball Room in April 4, 2024, in Athens.

Tanner Smith, a junior studying social work, works for the Women’s Center and was in attendance. He emphasized how important the event is to hold to remind people there are resources and help at OU.

“We just wanted to advocate for survivors and advocates of survivors,” he said. “We wanted (this) to be a night of uplifting everybody and just taking some relief off of people who are able to share their stories or people who aren't able to share their stories.”

To soften the mood, the event closed around 8:30 p.m. with an interpretive performance from Athens Black Contemporary Dancers, or ABCD, followed by an a capella performance from The Picardy Thirds. 

Fowler said a goal for the evening was to let locals and students know of the resources OU has to offer, like SAP, which is confidential and exempt from mandatory reporting.

Take Back the Night shined a light on the stories of survivors of sexual assault and violence. Students and locals alike shared a feeling of comradery and strength through the stories being told. 

“I think if a friend does come to you … show support, believe them and offer a suggestion of actually even going with them to SAP,” Fowler said.


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