Student Government’s ‘Take Back the Night’ honors sexual assault survivors 

Rory Moore | Mercury Staff

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A crowd gathered around flickering candles arranged next to the Reflection Pool the night of April 23 as representatives from rape crisis centers and UTD student organizations stood in honor of sexual assault survivors.  

The event, called Take Back the Night, took place from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Chess Plaza and consisted of speeches from speakers from organizations including Turning Point Rape Crisis Center, Dallas Rape Crisis Center and Crissa’s Community Outreach. Student Government organized the ceremony to honor Sexual Assault Awareness Month, including a march around campus with signs like “Sexy does not mean sex me,” a T-shirt display and a candlelight vigil. 

Nandita Kumar, a public policy sophomore and the Diversity, Equity and Belonging Committee Chair for Student Government, organized the event based on similar events held by the Clothesline Project, a non-profit that aims to encourage and empower sexual assault survivors. Two weeks prior, students and community leaders alike wrote messages affirming the experiences of survivors, such as “Remember the shame is not on you!” and “I won’t stay quiet so you can be comfortable” on T-shirts showcased at the event.  

“Seeing more than 50 shirts being made in the short time we had was amazing,” Kumar said. “We had a lot of students come by and share their personal experiences as to why this project was important to them.” 

Nicole Wingard volunteers with the Turning Point Rape Crisis Center, an organization that provides counseling and education for sexual trauma, and uses her podcast “Rise Above” to advocate for sexual assault awareness. Wingard is running for Miss Texas and hopes to help survivors in their recovery journey through her advocacy. 

“It happened my freshman year of college, and I stayed silent for the duration of my college career,” Wingard said. “I dealt with a lot of shame and guilt and believed a lot of the stereotypes that people have around sexual assault. Last year, I went through my own healing process, and I really felt convicted to make this my platform. I think it is really powerful in pageantry. I think a lot of times people look at pageant girls and they think that they are perfect, they are so beautiful, how could anything happen to them? And it just shatters those stereotypes.”  

Leslie Hernandez is the Community Engagement specialist at the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, or DARCC, which provides advocacy, counseling, community outreach and education. Hernandez attributes her passion for working at DARCC to her mother and her experience as a part of the Latino community.   

“[Sexual assault], to this day, is very taboo [in the Latino culture],” Hernandez said. “This has happened in my family, my mother and her sisters … I like to work with Latino-based communities, where it’s very taboo.” 

Crissa’s Community Outreach, or CCO, was co-founded by supply chain management sophomore Zaina Asad and political science sophomore Alisa Model in remembrance of Michelle Crissa, a woman who suffered a four-year abusive relationship and was killed by her partner in 1989. Asad said that she was inspired to start CCO both by Crissa’s story and by what she described as the public’s lack of knowledge people about Title IX. Asad said CCO is addressing this knowledge gap by creating an accessible guide from survivors and for survivors to navigate Title IX. The guide will address dilemmas people have experienced while filing complaints under Title IX. and is expected to be released at the end of April. 

“It’s not easy to relive those experiences, but our hope is that this is going to help close the gap within UTD for something that we don’t feel like is addressed enough,” Asad said. “And we really hope that in the future this can help people navigate the system.”  

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. 


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