Take Back the Night: Outrunning stigmas of sexual violence

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Free to [be] week on feminism culminates in on-campus 5K

As runners participating in the Free to [be] 5K race this past Saturday neared the finish line, they were reminded why they signed up to run in the first place. T-shirts hanging from clothes lines in the quad read messages like, “It wasn’t your fault,” and “Rape is awful, but you are not,” served as an inspiration to those who participated in the weeklong endeavor to bring awareness to feminism and issues pertaining to sexual violence to campus. The T-shirts were symbolic of the sentiments felt by rape victims and the struggles faced after a sexual assault incident.

Talking about the creation of the weeklong events for the Free to [be] initiative, Liz Vestal said,  “We were talking about strong women in our lives, and Annie [Cameron] started sending positive e-mails to encourage us. Messages like ‘love yourself’ are important to hear. And we decided to bring a speaker in, and then started planning even more events, and it grew into the Free to [be] week.”

As the brains behind the creation of Free to [be], students Annie Cameron, Renee Richter and Vestal organized the 5K, along with other volunteers involved in the week of events. Cameron, Richter and Vestal started the race with short, motivational comments about the importance of Take Back the Night Foundation  and the hopes of Free to [be] to contribute to the cause, and cheerleaders were present at nearly every corner encouraging runners along the path.

Speaking on why a 5K was appropriate for ending the week, Vestal explained, “We wanted to cover the mind, body and spirit during the week, and we really like Take Back the Night as an organization. We thought a 5K would be a good option, in order to support the cause,” Vestal said.

While Free to [be] held several events throughout the week, including different keynote speakers and discussions, holding a 5K race was intended to access different members of the campus community. The race was not just limited to members of the University, but included runners from 5K organizations across the city, allowing to further spread the message pas the confines of SLU’s gates.

Several organizations participated in the development and execution of the week’s events, including the Panhellenic community, Una, the feminist group on campus, and other Greek organizations, both male and female. This involvement was evident as runners joined together to contribute to the Take Back the Night cause, which seeks to aid those suffering from the trauma of sexual violence throughout the country and raise awareness of sexual assault and ways of prevention. All 5k registration fees and contributions were given to Take Back the Night.

SLU juniors Theresa Devine and Molly Connelly were among several students who ran the race on Saturday morning, and like others, were there specifically to support the Take Back the Night efforts.

“I decided to run the race because I believe in everything Take Back the Night stands for, and I believe in equality for women,” Devine said. “I think it’s important to stand up for women and what you think is right in equality, and it’s a great way to raise awareness,” Connelly added.

Race participants enjoyed a scenic route through campus, both beginning and ending at the clock tower, coming together to snack on bananas and bagels after crossing the finish line. After the race, Free to [be] organizers also hosted a performance by Get Lit, a spoken word group that advocates literacy through the power of spoken word performances. To conclude the entire week, Free to [be] also held a “Free to [Dance]” party.