On Wednesday evening, psychology senior Jasmine Bell read her poem about sexual assault to a crowd on the Main Mall.
“For the first time, I saw my body was a cigarette and he had been burning me for years,” Bell said.
Voices Against Violence’s Take Back the Night is an annual interactive event for survivors of sexual assault to express themselves in a supportive community. The event is gender-inclusive, and this year’s Take Back the Night was hosted by VAV in conjunction with UT Theatre & Dance students.
In addition to dance performances, the event included free food, poetry, an open-mic opportunity for survivors, a resource fair, an interactive art installation and keynote speaker Wendy Davis, the former Democrat
Davis said the most important thing she learned from her years in public office was to speak up for something that matters.
“This particular campus has just done something extraordinary,” Davis said. ”Something that no campus of its size or even a smaller size across this country has done, and it did it because of people like you. It made a decision because of the leadership of Chancellor (William) McRaven to engage in a self-analysis of the climate of safety on this campus.”
VAV is a program of UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center that helps students with issues of sexual violence, relationship violence and stalking through prevention, awareness and response.
Government senior Brad Rabun said he became involved with VAV because he believes sexual violence is an issue affecting everyone.
“If I have a daughter someday, I (would) like her to grow up in a world where she doesn’t have to worry about going to college and getting assaulted,” Rabun said. “I want my son to know that’s not okay to assault women. I was raised with three older sisters. I had no choice but to be respectful.”
Plan II sophomore Mia Goldstein, VAV student organization president, said Take Back the Night is VAV’s flagship event and the largest it puts on annually.
“Survivors of sexual violence can come here and get connected to all the tables and resources as well as find a community of support,” Goldstein said. “It’s just a very intentional space for survivors to be believed.”
Goldstein said VAV asked students to submit their own definitions of consent which was defined as mandatory, necessary and “given, not a given.”
Mechanical engineering junior Ross Miglin, member of Texas Blazers, said the fact UT campus puts on an event like Take Back the Night speaks to the culture that individuals are interested in creating and facilitating.
“There needs to be a framework for them to be able to recover from those experiences and to be able to seek help, which is unfortunately not the case,” Miglin said. “(It’s important) to have those conversations for both the survivors and non-survivors to get involved and to create something that can be a robust structure in the future.”
In addition to Blazers, the event was co-sponsored by Texas Orange Jackets, BeVocal, Healthyhorns and many more.