UNH Community Comes Together for SHARPP’s Annual Take Back the Night Event

Kylie Valluzzi, Contributing Writer

DURHAM – Students holding glowsticks and candles gathered on Thomson Hall (T-Hall) lawn in support of the annual Take Back the Night event on Thursday, October 20. 

They marched to protest sexual harassment, assault, victim-blaming and rape culture. They carried signs reading “I believe you,” “you are heard” and “you are valid” as they marched past McConnell Hall, Holloway Commons and Paul College. A candlelight vigil followed on T-Hall lawn where survivors, friends and allies were invited to share their stories.

The event was sponsored by the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) and seeks to educate the UNH community about interpersonal violence (IPV) and support victims of IPV. Aislyn O’Connell, a third-year student at UNH and SHARPP’s education and outreach assistant, was the first speaker of the night.

“We are here tonight to be heard,” she said. “We are here because we know what it feels like to live in a culture where our safety and acceptance is not guaranteed; a culture that not only treats sexual violence as normal and inevitable but that blames survivors for their experiences. We are here because we support survivors, we know survivors, we are survivors, and because enough is enough.”

Take Back the Night is a national movement that began in the 1970s as a response to violent crimes against women. Throughout the 1980s, colleges across North America began holding marches and protests on their campuses. In the 1990s, UNH began to take part in this tradition.

“The event aims to serve as both a communal and validating space for those impacted by any form of IPV, where UNH community members can come together to be in solidarity and support of one another,” said Erica Vazza, outreach and engagement coordinator of SHARPP.

This year’s march comes at a time when IPV is a problem on campus and state-wide. Between March 1 and Sept. 30, 2020, New Hampshire crisis centers served 728 victims between the ages of 18-25, according to the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (NHCADSV). 

According to the 2019 UNH Campus Climate Survey, 13% of students experience sexual violence each year. That rises to 17% when including relationship abuse and stalking.

Alyssa Dandrea, community relations specialist at NHCADSV wrote in an email that Take Back the Night and other similar events raise awareness about sexual violence and abuse. They work to create a culture where abuse is unacceptable.

“These events bring community members together and encourage dialogue about how to end interpersonal violence, while providing a safe space for individuals to speak out against abuse and share their stories,” she said.

Emma Strachan, a third-year student at UNH and SHARPP peer advocate, said Take Back the Night left a lasting impact on her. 

“I think that providing survivors with an opportunity to tell their stories was powerful,” she said. “I noticed that people were very affected by the survivor stories and that there was an overarching feeling of empathy.”

Take Back the Night serves as one of SHARPP’s foundational awareness events within Relationship Abuse Awareness Month. Vazza, commented that sustaining these types of events can be transformational for attendees, increasing awareness and inspiring action.

“The more space we can make for talking about [IPV at UNH] — the impact, prevention, effective and trauma-informed response — the more equipped our community will be to create the type of organizational change necessary to prevent, reduce and eliminate violence,” Vazza said.

Students seeking support can visit SHARPP’s website, call their office at (603)-862-3494 or call their 24/7 support helpline at (603)-862-7233. No appointments are needed for an office visit.