Something in the air was different on the night of October 21. It started as a low grumble and moved into a fierce and empowered roar. That noise was the chants heard across Illinois State University’s campus and Uptown Normal as the Feminist Led Activist Movement to Empower (F.L.A.M.E.) broke the silence of sexual and domestic violence on its annual Take Back the Night march.
When victims of sexual and domestic violence are first assaulted, they may feel their voice has been taken from them. They are at times left broken with seemingly no outlet or support. But it is the work of groups like F.L.A.M.E. and the Bloomington-Normal community that breaks this misconception, empowering victims to become survivors.
F.L.A.M.E. is a leader in this social change. A team of 15 passionate activists together brought the national program of Take Back the Night to Illinois State’s campus. Engaging over 150 participants throughout the night, F.L.A.M.E. brought clear attention to the issues of sexual and domestic violence.
It is key in empowering social movements to work as a collaborative. With 13 social justice organizations tabling, the night began with highlighting community partnership. One man stood out among the rest of these organizations. Illinois State President Larry Dietz made a special appearance, even engaging with the student leaders of F.L.A.M.E. before the program. Dietz gave an opening presidential address to show his support, which in his words included “ending the crime of sexual violence.”
“The president of Illinois State University came to the program and marched with us, which was an incredible honor and so wonderful to know we are a part of an institution that takes sexual violence seriously,” said F.L.A.M.E. President Brooke Barnhart. It was a clear moment in solidarity coming together as an institution and as a community.
As much as Take Back the Night’s march offers an outlet for rage and confronting energy, its roots lie in the process of healing. The night opened with five survivors finding comfort, community support, and their own power to retell their stories.
“It’s not your fault, it’s never been your fault, and it’ll never be your fault. You are still in control of yourself and you are still able to regain power and get past what has happened to you,” declared Barnhart branching from the emotional testimonies into a powerful rally.
Clutching her bullhorn tightly in her grip, F.L.A.M.E. action member Emma Belz rallied the march of over 60 individuals across campus. Belz had the exact electric energy and assertion needed to take on the community at large and challenge our social practices.
When this challenge came to an end, F.L.A.M.E. knew their voices had been heard and came together in a candlelight vigil. Concluding at Schroeder Plaza, the activists spoke the names of loved ones passed into the night air. Inside Schroeder Hall, safe spaces supported by Student Counseling Services were offered to any rally members or survivors triggered from the night’s events.
“Take Back the Night left me speechless,” recapped Barnhart. “It was an incredibly empowering night, and I am so happy that F.L.A.M.E. could help bring attention to this extremely important issue. Survivors Unite! Take Back the Night!”
F.L.A.M.E. is a proud annual supporter of Take Back the Night and works towards ending sexual and domestic violence as well as addressing concern in many other areas of social justice. Additional information about F.L.A.M.E. is available at Facebook.com/ISU.FLAME or by contacting F.L.A.M.E. President Brooke Barnhart at bnbarnh@IllinoisState.edu.
Jamie Pitts is an undergraduate assistant for the women’s and gender studies program at Illinois State University.