Students from Minnesota State University-Moorhead, Concordia College, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, North Dakota State University, and North Dakota State College of Science gathered on MSUM’s campus on Sept. 20 in support of victims of sexual assault and gender-based violence through an event titled “Take Back the Night.”

“Take Back the Night” is an international non-profit organization with the mission of ending sexual and domestic violence. Every year, hundreds of events are held worldwide to speak out against such violence and listen to the stories of survivors. The demonstrations, the first of which were held in the 1970s, most commonly follow the format of a rally or a march.

“They’ve been around for a really long time, which to me is both inspiring and really frustrating,” said Dana Bisignani, MSUM’s Women’s Center Coordinator.

The event on MSUM’s campus consisted of a barbecue on the campus mall, keynote speakers, a march, and a choir performance, ending with a survivor’s speak-out and open mic.

The name of the organization and its events is inspired by the fear that many women have of going out alone at night.

“As women, that night is ours; we have the right to take up space, and we still demand safety,” Bisignani said.

Dr. Mallary Allen, an assistant professor of sociology and a co-director of the women’s and gender studies program at Concordia explained that, in addition to the organization’s original intention of primarily supporting female victims of sexual assault, the demonstrations have widened their scope, giving voices to more individuals affected by violence.

“It’s expanded so that it’s not explicitly women,” Allen said. “Now, I see it incorporating a variety of causes, not just sexual assault and sexual violence, but domestic violence, too.”

This year, Bisignani was inspired by her past experiences with “Take Back the Night” to host a multi-college event on MSUM’s campus.
“I’ve done ‘Take Back the Night’ at two other campuses. I’ve been doing them since I was 21, and I’m 39 now,” said Bisignani, who was largely inspired by her background as a community organizer. “I always believe that you have strength in numbers. Strength, both in terms of making people feel like they are not alone, and also strength in terms of our ability to speak to power, and to demand what we need.”

Concordia’s women and gender studies department encouraged students to meet at the bell tower and walk to MSUM’s campus mall together. Concordia sophomore Carly Erickson is excited to see the colleges coming together to address such a controversial issue.

“I believe that this event is completely needed,” Erickson said. “I think oftentimes individuals who have not experienced sexual assault or partner abuse tend to believe that it ceases to exist, or put issues like these on the back burner because it does not always directly affect them.”

When planning the event, Bisignani kept in mind people who have experienced sexual violence, especially those currently studying and working at the tri-college institutions.

“There are sexual assault survivors on all of our campuses. If they feel that their institution is backing something like [Take Back the Night], they may feel like they have more space to come forward and speak.”

MSUM is offering an opportunity for students to get involved in “Take Back the Night” after the Sept. 20 demonstration has ended. An interactive display called “The Clothesline Project” will be located in MSUM’s Center for the Arts until Sept. 22. There, participants can write on and decorate a t-shirt representing one’s own sexual, verbal, physical, or emotional abuse. T-shirts are also made to represent victims who have died as a result of gender-based violence, serving as a visual reminder that abuse victims are everywhere throughout the community.

Bisignani also has a long-term goal of continuing the message of “Take Back the Night” by creating a multi-college coalition against gender-based violence, with representatives from every institution within the Fargo-Moorhead area.

“I don’t think I am the first person to come up with that, I think there has been a desire to see something like that, but I think that making it happen, generating the momentum to create something like that, this event just seemed like the perfect generator of that collective energy,” Bisignani said.