‘A pressing issue’: SHAPE hosts ‘Reclaim the Night’ Walk, stands in solidarity with Duke sexual assault survivors

On Thursday evening, nearly 150 students gathered at the West Campus bus stop as the evening light gave way to dusk. Buses passed by, but no one got on. 

Here, they stood ready to walk for the next hour in the humid air — down Campus Drive, by the Karsh Alumni Center, Nasher Museum of Art, Smith Warehouse. Students talked to one another in low murmurs as they walked. There was no chanting, no shouting. Mostly, the group stayed quiet. By the time they gathered on East Campus near 9 p.m., it would be dark. 

Organized by student group Duke Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention & Education (SHAPE), Thursday’s “Reclaim the Night” Walk marked the end of SHAPE Week, during which the group spreads awareness, fundraises and educates the community about Sexual Assault Awareness Month. 

Before departing, executive members of SHAPE stood atop the benches and spoke to the crowd. Students drew quiet, the silence only interrupted by the low hum of the buses pulling through the loop.


Rhea Tejwani, a senior and co-director of SHAPE, welcomed everyone to the event and outlined the goals of the "Reclaim the Night" Walk. 

The first was to pay respect to Duke’s history of sexual assault activism and recognize the progress made by those students who came before them. The second goal is to “protest and demand action from Duke University to further invest in sexual assault prevention.” And the final goal is to “stand in solidarity with the survivors that are [both] here and not here tonight.”

There have been three previous marches raising awareness of sexual assault on college campuses at Duke — first in 1987, then in 2006 and again in 2017, according to Sophia Chimbanda, a senior and one of the co-directors of SHAPE.

“We stand in solidarity with the survivors that are here tonight. Sexual violence is a pressing issue at this university. And we encourage people to let out those feelings here in this space as we walk in whatever way feels most comfortable for you,” said senior Amelia D’Agaro, SHAPE’s Greek life and SLG director.

D’Agaro then led the crowd in a 48 second moment of silence, to honor the results of the 2018 student experience survey that found 47.8% of female respondents and 13.5% of male respondents reported being sexually assaulted since matriculating to Duke. 

Chimbanda said that SHAPE wanted to do something to make a statement.

“We are tired of sitting around, and we are willing to walk, and we are willing to write, and we are willing to engage students in the way that we have been engaging students for many years,” she said. 

While this was the first time many of the participants engaged in a walk for sexual assault, this was not the case for Dawn Obeidallah Davis, Trinity ’90. 

Davis, who attended Thursday's walk with her daughter Grace Davis, a first-year, participated in the “Take Back the Night” March in 1987 when she was a student at Duke. At the time, The Chronicle reported that over 300 students attended that walk — which started at the Bryan Center Walkway and ended on East Campus. 

Davis remembered the night being rowdy, full of drums, chants and signs — what she called a striking difference from the tranquility of this walk over three decades later. Still, the message has remained the same: unity, anger and determination as students call attention to sexual violence in the community and demand a safer campus. 

For sophomores Phoebe Ducote and Morgan Guess, attending the walk meant showing up for their communities.  

“This is really the power that we have to take the power back,” Ducote said, noting that the Duke community rarely talks about the statistics of sexual assault. 

Guess, who has three sisters, said she walked to raise awareness so they “don’t become part of the statistics.”

The fact that Duke continues to avoid [conversations about sexual assault] is just so aggravating and frustrating for me, especially seeing all of this movement and seeing how many people actually care for this,” Guess said. 

When Ducote gives tours to prospective students, she noted that they always make note of the “big community” at Duke. 

“I think tonight shows that there's a lot of things that this community really needs,” she said. “And if Duke wants to continue to attract as many students as they can, they have to take care of the students they already have.”

Kathryn Thomas profile
Kathryn Thomas | News Editor

Kathryn Thomas is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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