The UNF Women’s Center and Alpha Chi Omega held the eighth annual Take Back the Night event Wednesday to raise awareness of interpersonal violence. The event featured a march through campus, a candlelight vigil and a chance for survivors of domestic abuse to share their stories.
Gabby Yibirin, president of UNF’s chapter of Alpha Chi Omega, said Take Back the Night is a worldwide event that dates back to 1976. She said the goal is to speak out against violence and raise community awareness to prevent future violence against men and women.
“For over 30 years, women and men have gathered in local communities and colleges to call attention to countless atrocities experienced by women,” said Yibirin. “We must no longer allow voices to be hushed by abuse and violence. We must no longer look the other way, ignore, seek excuses for or cover up abusive relationships.”
Students gathered outside the Osprey Crossings to begin a march to the Student Union. The group was led by a trio of drummers and the marchers chanted as they walked through the housing area, past the green and on to the student union.
As they moved through campus, marchers chanted, “No more silence. No more violence.”
Freshman Mehgan Fox, a nursing major, said the march brought a sense of community.
“Just walking together and saying chants together, knowing that we’re all, you know, headed to the same cause,” said Fox.
At the Student Union, candles were passed out and the participants heard from several speakers, including Alpha Chi Omega members and the student body president, Bella Genta.
“This past year has been one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging, of my life. The combination of stress, the external expectations, and a severe lack of sleep have probably taken a couple years off my life,” said Genta. “But they have also helped me grow into someone that is confident enough to recognize myself as a victim of domestic violence.”
She said that she has been empowered through sharing her experiences.
“For those of you that are still struggling with whether or not to speak up and if you feel alone, I hope the stories that will be shared later on this evening, as well as this event as a whole, will help you engage with the amazing and supportive resources that UNF and its people have to offer,” continued Genta.
Cierra Brooks, a freshman health administration major, said that as a personal survivor of domestic violence, she was thankful for the event. She said it was her first time attending and she plans to participate again next year.
“It’s one thing to know about it, but definitely a different thing when you hear stories of people are college students, same as you,” said Brooks.
“One in four young women will experience rape, sexual assault or attempted sexual assault during her time on a college campus,” said Katelin Maloney, a domestic violence advocate and volunteer with the Betty Griffin House. “Also, almost half of all dating college women will experience some form of dating abuse.”
When the stage was opened for anyone to share their experiences, two women came forward. One student spoke about an abusive high school relationship. She said it took months for her to realize that being raped and controlled by her boyfriend was not normal, and several more to work up the courage to end the relationship. It was the woman’s first time speaking publicly about her abuse. Another woman shared the story of the death of her son at the hands of an abusive father.
Many people in the audience wiped away tears after hearing the stories. All survivors were invited forward and given flowers.
“I thought it was amazing. I didn’t know really what to expect, but being here, hearing stories, and just seeing the community come out and support something that we’re really passionate about means a lot,” said sophomore Sydney Weinrab.
It was Weinrab’s her first time attending and that her favorite part was hearing the stories.
Weinrab said people hear the statistics about domestic violence, “but hearing actual people, like your peers, hearing them talk, it kind of puts everything in perspective and makes it a little more real for everyone.”
Representatives from the UNF Women’s Center and Counseling Center had tables at the event. Victim advocates held signs and people who needed help were encouraged to speak to them. Anyone who has experienced domestic violence was encouraged to call the 24 Victim Advocacy line at 904-620-1010.
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