Blacksburg overflowed with about 200 student activists Thursday night during the 21st annual Take Back the Night celebration and rally, dedicated in memory of deceased Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington.
Related: Video from the rally.
Harrington’s parents, Dan and Gil Harrington, were in attendance.
Harrington, a 20-year-old education major at Tech, disappeared on Oct. 17 during a Metallica concert at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. She was last seen hitchhiking on the Copeley Road Bridge hear the arena. Three months later, on Jan. 26, her body was found in a remote area of Anchorage Farm, 10 miles away from the arena.
Thursday’s rally was the Harringtons’ first public appearance on the Tech campus since the discovery of their daughter’s body.
“Women campaigning against violence has always been important in our home,” Gil Harrington said, referencing her daughter Morgan’s long-term involvement with charities that assisted victims of domestic violence, especially children.
“Although we were not able to save our own daughter, we’re going to try to save others,” Gil Harrington said.
She said that because her daughter’s case had been so “high-profile,” she and her husband Dan were “honored to come.”
The first portion of the event featured a rally, held in the auditorium of the Wesley Foundation building on Roanoke Street. The event was standing room only as presenters spoke from the four sponsoring organizations, Womanspace, the Montgomery County chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Women’s Center at Tech and the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley.
Women who had been victimized by violence also shared their personal stories.
Also in attendance at the rally was dean of students Tom Brown, Tech police chief Wendell Flinchum and Blacksburg Town Council members Leslie Hager-Smith and Cecile Newcomb.
Sophomore Nicole Faut, president of Womanspace, said the rally was designed to promote “awareness of violence against everybody.”
Take Back the Night is a national event that has been celebrated on the Tech campus since the late 1980’s.
“This is very close to home to so many people,” Faut said.
Susan Anderson, vice-mayor of Blacksburg and a Tech mathematics professor, has worked with the Take Back the Night cause, before the Women’s Center opened. She is now a faculty advisor for the Women’s Center and works closely with the Clothesline Project, during which members of the community can create shirts in memory of victims of sexual and domestic violence.
Gil and Dan Harrington created a T-shirt for Morgan. Morgan’s shirt, which is number 509, was added to the clothesline during the rally.
Some of the shirt project will be on display today in Squires Student Center.
“The rally is designed to educate participants about violence and resources available to combat violence,” Anderson said. “And the march is designed to energize people. We’re not going to change the world, but people can change their own worlds.”
Gil Harrington spoke to the gathered, hushed crowd about her daughter.
“We need to shine a light on this dark thing and change what we do that tacitly encourages violence against women,” Harrington said.
Gil and Dan Harrington marched along with the roughly 200 protestors through the Tech campus and along the South Main Street. Passersby stopped to look and to cheer on the smiling, candle-bearing line of people, led by Anderson and Womenspace volunteers. Many student organizations and fraternities joined in.
Aimee Kanode, president of the LBGTA at Tech, said about 15 members of her organization were marching together in support of Take Back the Night.
“Women and LBGTQ people are often persecuted,” Kanode said.
Anderson said the rally and march were designed to promote “simple everyday things to lessen violence” that could be done in the Tech community.