By Riley Gentry, Staff Writer–
At this year’s annual Take Back the Night event at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the keynote speaker was renowned lecturer and lobbyist Kenyette Barnes.
According to the director of the event, Victoria Turner, a psychology major with a concentration in social sciences from Springfield, Tennessee, Take Back The Night is an event held nationally “with the goal of uplifting and supporting survivors of gender-based violence, as well as honoring those who have lost their lives because of it.”
At the event, attendees checked-in and were able to get a free “obtained & affirmative & voluntary & continual” consent sweatshirt. There were many booths at the event such as Spectrum, Partnership, Know More UTC, the Center for Student Wellbeing, Survivor Advocacy Services, and the counseling center that attendees could stop at and get more information.
Kenyette Barnes is the national co-founder of the #MuteR.Kelly movement and CEO of Nia Vizyon, LLC, a social justice, consulting, and political strategy lobbying firm.
Barnes spoke about rape culture and sexual violence in our society. She told UTC that “Rape and sexual violence are 100% preventable. It’s preventable by simply not raping.”
She affirmed to any survivors of sexual violence that whatever their experience was, it was not their fault. It didn’t matter what they said, what they did, how they dressed, what they texted, etc. Whatever happened was in no way the victim’s fault.
Barnes also discussed the healing process for survivors and noted that it’s ok if it takes a long time to heal from sexual violence. She said, “healing is an ongoing process and it is up to you when you are done healing.”
She stressed how rape culture is everywhere but that doesn’t mean everyone is a rapist. Barnes explained how we, as a society, can start to change this cycle of abuse by standing up and fighting back.
After Barnes was finished with her talk, attendees gathered together to walk through campus and the Fortwood neighborhood chanting about ending gender-based violence.
Following the march was a candlelight vigil where stories of gender-based violence were shared either anonymously or by people coming up on stage and telling their personal experiences.
“This gives people a chance to come up and share how Gender-based violence has affected their lives and it is always so amazing to see the bravery exhibited by each and every person who decides to share,” said Turner.
One student who attended the event, McKenzie Hoskins, said her favorite part was listening to everyone’s personal stories. “I love that UTC offers an event that allows people to feel safe enough to share these heartbreaking stories with others as a way to heal,” said Hoskins.
She said she decided to come to the event because she had to get service hours for her women’s studies class, and this event seemed really interesting.”
Even though Hoskins went just for class she’s glad she did it. “It was so empowering to listen to these students’ stories in a place where they felt safe enough to share them. It made me want to do more to stop sexual assault and domestic violence and really take action,” she said of the event.
Another student who attended, Hannah Howard, said the most memorable part of the night for her occured when her freshman year roommate shared her story about sexual abuse.
Howard said, “It was heartbreaking and inspiring and it reminded me of how real this issue is and that it can happen to absolutely anyone. I was moved and walked away a different person that night.”
She said she would suggest others to come to the event because “It’s easy for such tragic and real events like sexual abuse to be pushed under the rug. If it’s not talked about or learned about, it’ll never change. They took back the night in hopes of a better tomorrow!”
Take Back the Night is hosted by the Center for Women and Gender Equity. For more information about how to get involved with more events like this one, visit: https://www.utc.edu/center-women-gender-equity/index.php