Before coming to the United States, UO graduate Seela Sankei, from Nairobi City, Kenya, was unable to openly protest and use her voice against the sexual violence occurring against women in her country.

Sankei marched with about 300 others in the University of Oregon’s 39th annual Take Back the Night — an event occurring on college campuses around the country to raise awareness about sexual assault and to stand in solidarity with survivors.  

The event began at the EMU Amphitheater as the sun began to set over campus. UO students and Eugene community members clutched homemade signs as they listened to representatives of multiple student groups speak about the importance of such events.

While living in Kenya, Sankei spent 12 years of her life fighting for girls falling victim to female genital mutilation.

“In Kenya, we have traditions and culture that prevents us from speaking of anything to do with sex or sexuality,” she said.

Seela Sankei dances her way down the road during the Take Back the Night march in Eugene, Ore. on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Aaron Nelson/Emerald)

She said that coming to the United States gave her an opportunity to get involved in women’s rights activism. Marches like Take Back the Night allow Sankei to speak freely about her beliefs.

Presentations at the amphitheater included a performance from the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team, a speech from UO Mujeres, a poem from representatives of Planned Parenthood and speeches from the Women’s Center’s Fatima Roohi Pervaiz and Itzel Chavez.

Members of the group UO Mujeres painted half of their faces like skulls to symbolize survivors of sexual assault.

“Sexual violence happens at epidemic proportions throughout the country and around the world to people of all genders,” said Chavez. “It has impacted many of our lives, whether we are survivors or allies.”

The speeches were followed by a march to downtown. Marchers routed through UO’s sorority row to stand in solidarity with panhellenic women.

About halfway through the march, a group of 20 middle-aged women clad in workout gear and pink scarves began a choreographed flash mob dance in a parking lot near the marchers. Cheering peaked when the marchers saw the flash mob.

A flash mob led by Margo Jennings surprised the marchers with a dance called, “Break the Chain.” (Will Campbell/Emerald)

One of the leaders of the dancers was Margo Jennings from Bronx, New York. Jennings said their dance, named “Break the Chain,” represents women’s power. The dancers are part of Eugene 350, a climate change awareness group in Eugene.

“We thought this would be a good opportunity to support [the marchers],” Jennings said.

Sankei even joined the flash mob in their dance.

After the march, an intimate and speak-out took place at 99 W 10th Ave., where survivors had the opportunity to share their stories, poems or thoughts regarding sexual assault. Speakers asked to not have their words recorded.

A new goal for this year

According to the UO Women’s Center, one goal of the evening was to center it around diverse and marginalized communities, as well as shed light on the intersections of sexual violence.

A common complaint about January’s Women’s March on Washington was that the event was primarily catered to white, cisgender women, and did not provide for women of any other marginalized group.

“Our presenters represent a diverse group of identities on our campus community who will shed light about the realities of sexual violence,” Chavez said in an email to the Emerald.

To offer support during an evening of sensitive content, the UO Women’s Center staff served as a safety team, donning turquoise sashes as an indicator of safe, available allies.

The evening was coordinated and hosted by the UO Women’s Center, who were supported and sponsored by UO panhellenic women, UO Sexual Assault Support Services, Lane Community College’s women’s program, UO Mujeres, Safe Ride, the National Organization for Women and Triangle Graphics.

Will Campbell contributed to the reporting of this article.

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