On the evening of Tuesday, November 13, OU’s study center in Arezzo, Italy hosted its first Take Back the Night event, partnering with local organizations in the Tuscan city and drawing a crowd of around 60 participants from the university and the community at large. Take Back the Night is a charitable foundation whose goal is to end sexual assault and domestic violence and create safe communities through awareness, discussion and solidarity. For years, the University of Oklahoma has hosted an annual Take Back the Night event on the Norman campus, but this marks the first such event at one of OU’s international study centers.
“I wanted to organize this event because we constantly do events like [this] in Norman and it was on my heart to bring awareness to Arezzo,” explained OU in Arezzo (OUA) Center Coordinator Leanna Payton. “I thought about it shortly after the Dr. Ford case,” she continued, referring to the September hearings dealing with sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. “It’s unfortunate that we still have to organize such events, but they are so important . . . to be a voice for those who are voice-less.”
The Arezzo event achieved just that, combining the sharing of survivors’ stories with presentations from local nonprofits that are working with these issues. The event began in OUA’s San Francesco Classroom Annex, where representatitves from four Arezzo-based organizations — Pronto Donna, Chimera Arcobaleno Arcigay, Oxfam Italia and an organization fighting human trafficking — led frank discussions (in Italian with English translation) about sexual assault and violence, sex trafficking and violence against the LGBT community. Most importantly, they provided advice for students and community members on how to fight back, get involved and become allies.
For Hima Patel, a Chemistry/Pre-Med sophomore from Moore, Oklahoma, the event was “empowering” and much-needed. “Bringing social awareness to issues like sexual violence against women is crucial,” she noted. “I am grateful that we were able to bring [Take Back the Night] to the Arezzo community.”
Following the presentations, the assembled group took to the streets of the beautiful medieval city center for a candlelight walk, rally and vigil. As the group walked solemnly, toting signs and posters, volunteers read aloud the stories of survivors in Italian, with English translations distributed to non-native speakers.
For Dominique Schuster, a junior and biology major from Maryland, the experience offered a sense of hope. “Being a woman and experiencing my first Take Back the Night, especially in Arezzo, has made me feel more comfortable knowing that something is being done all around the world about such a big issue,” she said.
The event concluded as most OUA events do: by inviting community members and students to join together at the OUA Rooney Family Center to hang out, relax and get to know one another. This particular night featured a music session as well, so the group could take quiet time to process the stories that were shared and the greater issues discussed over the course of the night. It was a quiet end to a powerful evening — one that won’t soon be forgotten.
“To be a part of a bigger organization protesting for a good cause couldn't have made this experience more surreal,” said Khori Jensen, a junior biology major from Edmond. Trevor Davis, a sophomore from Oklahoma City studying microbiology, agreed. “It was such an amazing feeling to bring awareness to sexual and domestic violence in the Arezzo community,” he said. “Participating in Take Back the Night and being an ally to survivors and all women was one of the wholesome experiences I have had while studying abroad.”
Interested in study abroad with OU in Arezzo? Visit our website to learn more and to apply.