‘Take Back the Night’ catalyzes consent culture

PSU's 18th annual Sexual Assault Awareness Month event takes to campus April 13

On Thursday, April 13, the Women’s Resource Center at Portland State is hostingTake Back The Night”, which, according to the WRC, “brings awareness to issues of sexual violence in our communities and promotes solidarity with survivors in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.” 2017 is PSU’s 18th year hosting a student-led TBTN, with this year’s theme being “Consent Culture & The Freedom To Change.”

This year’s student–led TBTN event intends to facilitate change and catalyze consent culture by exploring and conceptualizing what it would look like to live in a space where consent is the norm.

Each TBTN differs from year to year. This year’s event, which starts at 5 p.m. with a resource fair, includes a rally and march, tabling from community and campus organizations, performances, a vigil, survivor speak out, and a keynote speaker.

Sheena Ino, assistant director of the WRC, is the staff support for the co-chairs of TBTN and said this year’s theme came to fruition through multiple conversations with PSU students.

“That’s just how it came to be,” Ino said. “Just seeing how in so many ways there are barriers to consent, and in a way envisioning a world where consent culture is honored and exists.”

Also at the center of TBTN is survivor-led and trauma-informed activism. Ino thinks if organization occurs without the voices at the center of the movement, then it’s a bit pointless.

“You’re not using information that impacts from the first hand narrative,” Ino said. “Having survivor-led activism, especially as it relates to this work, is incredibly valuable and essential to us being able to understand what is needed.”

Feminista Jones, mental health social worker, sex-positive feminist writer, public speaker and community activist, is the keynote for this year’s event. Jones will lead a workshop where the hope is to continue to talk about consent in everyday life and how the systems in which we exist create barriers to our autonomy and ability to consent.

The workshop is a closed space for students and community members whom are folks of color, which will be from 2–4 p.m. on April 13. Students who are interested in attending the workshop are encouraged to contact Ino at [email protected].

SAAM also emphasizes prevention work on campus, which is centered through TBTN activities. Usually after SAAM, resource centers like the WRC see increased numbers of students accessing their resources.

“Even when you look at campuses across the country,” Ino explained, “when you put prevention resources on campus, you are going to see numbers increase just because of the awareness.” Ino and other advocates and educators at the WRC and around campus are trying to understand the uptick in students accessing resources.

One way they’re trying to understand this is through the “Sexual Misconduct Campus Climate Survey,” in which PSU invited 12,556 undergraduate and graduate students to participate. The findings of this survey were released and discussed on April 4, followed by a press conference at the WRC.

“The survey is going to highlight what is going on on campus around sexual misconduct,” Ino said, “which will be another illuminating document that will reveal how many students on campus are actually accessing our services and also experiencing interpersonal violence.”

Sydney Bernkopf is the lead student advocate at the WRC. Bernkopf provides confidential support for students experiencing domestic violence, sexual harassment, and gender-based violence. Bernkopf is there to listen, validate experiences, and assist people in finding different types of resources.

“It looks different for a lot of people,” Bernkopf explained. “But it’s letting people know about their Title IX rights, what falls under the advocacy and support we do, and provide information for people that might have a hard time looking at that type of information at a particular moment because of everything that is going on.”

Bernkopf will be present at TBTN, and students and community members will know that she’s a peer advocate by the arm band that she’ll be wearing and by banners that say “Peer Advocate.” This type of visibility at TBTN is provided for attendees who need support before, during, or after TBTN, they know who to turn to if something comes up. This is an example of trauma–informed activism.

For Bernkopf, TBTN is about being in solidarity with each other. “It’s reclaiming space for women,” Bernkopf said. “[It’s] for people who are oppressed, reclaiming the night time, reclaiming that thing that a lot of people tell us is unsafe, being with each other and making someone feel safe again.”

Rae Crist is the volunteer and advocacy subcommittee chair for TBTN, whose role involves organizing volunteers for events and providing individualized support to people when needed. This is Crist’s second year with TBTN, and this year she hopes for deeper conversations surrounding the topic of consent.

“People have gotten fairly good at doing surface conversations,” Crist explained. “People have a general awareness of consent, but moving into that a little deeper and integrating it a little further, get beyond ‘Consent is Sexy’ and ‘Consent is Always Yes.’”

Crist remembers hearing students and community members marching and chanting from last year’s event. “It felt very energized,” Crist said. “And [it] was great to hear so many different voices combined. There were a lot of different people coming together under one cause, and it’s always nice to see that type of unity.”

Crist, like other people involved in organizing this event, sees the importance in trauma-informed activism.

“It is important to make spaces available to people so they can use them and engage with them in whatever is best for them and their own self care,” Crist said.