On Thursday evening, March 26th, Womanspace at VT held our Take Back the Night event. This annual rally and march aims to raise awareness of gender-based violence.

This year was Virginia Tech and the New River Valley’s 26th annual event. We have been making positive change in our community through Take Back the Night for 26 years. After the events that transpired on last Thursday night, it is clear we still have a long way to go.

My name is Claire Kelling and I was a coordinator for this year’s event. I was also the emcee.

I have literally spent hundreds of hours planning this event for the people who were in attendance.

My work over the past few months is nothing in comparison to the brave souls who spoke at this year’s event. There were two courageous people who were motivated to step on stage and share their experiences with gender-based violence in order to prevent future violence.

Another brave soul shared the story of a past Womanspacer. There were also many speakers from local organizations who gave remarks on the pervasive problem of gender-based violence in the world and in our community.

I was on the stage with the speakers for the entire event. I cried with them. When Wendy Godley performed Monica McIntyre’s “Mourning to the Moonlight,” I wept as she sang lyrics that call desperately for change and healing. I can only imagine the risks and emotional trials of these survivors as they shared their stories in front of over 500 people.

From the stage, I couldn’t hear or see what was happening with VT football. All I could hear were cries for change. All I could see were energetic and passionate faces. But it wasn’t long before I saw the face of my co-coordinator next to me on stage telling me what was going on. Then a new set of tears came.

These were tears of shame and of rage. These were tears of profound disappointment. More than anything, these were the tears that will motivate me to continue this fight. It is clear to me now that we will need to continue to Take Back the Night for years to come.

We will need to Take Back the Night from VT football. We will need to continue changing our community because our work is far from over. I hope that everyone in our community realizes that the problem is larger than the insensitive behavior of VT football players. There are many other people in our community who need to be made aware of the importance of these issues.

It just happens that VT football was forced to come to the Take Back the Night event. After months and months of work, all I can say to VT football and the community at large is that an apology is not enough here. Words will not solve the crisis of gender-based violence. We need action and that action starts with every one of us.

If VT football had stayed for the duration of the program, they would have heard these suggested actions: Become informed by picking up and reading the pamphlets that are available all over our campus. Pick up sexual violence resource magnets and share one with a friend. Question statements, jokes and innuendos that promote sexism and gender-based violence.

If someone tells you they have been sexually assaulted, give your support and ask how you can help. Remind them that the assault was not their fault. Take a self-defense class. Support businesses that promote equality and safety for all people.

Share your views on legislation with your elected representatives. Volunteer at the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech or the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley. Add your name to the Womanspace listserv. Join organizations representing feminist issues. Get involved!

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