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Learning in Action, U.Va.

Learning in Action

Public Service at the University of Virginia

Natalie Conners

Natalie Conners

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I am a third-year student in the College, majoring in philosophy and foreign affairs. I’ll be graduating this year and entering into the MS in Commerce program for my fourth year. I’ve been involved with Take Back the Night since my second year, and now serve on several student prevention committees. Recently, myself and other students on the Title IX climate committee presented President Sullivan with the student climate committee report regarding sexual and gender-based violence.

I love anything that allows me to meet people and be involved in the community. I have been working with a local arts organization, The Bridge, and an architecture student to collect and exhibit the stories of Charlottesville in a vintage Airstream. I have really treasured the opportunity I have had to become involved in the Charlottesville community, and the people I have met have some incredible stories.

What is the Take Back the Night event?

Take Back the Night is a week-long series of events in April (Sexual Assault Awareness month) aimed at supporting survivors of sexual violence and taking a stand to end instances of gender-based violence. Our events include panels on how to support a survivor and how to navigate the reporting process, a vigil, and a day of healing. We also have a celebration gala to thank students for being involved in prevention and celebrate all of the positive changes that have been made in our community already. We hope to create an inclusive environment and educate members of the University community about issues surrounding sexual violence. 

How do Take Back the Night’s goals and vision reach beyond the UVA community? 

Take Back the Night is an international organization, and its mission is to end all forms of gender-based violence. Our goals at UVA are extremely applicable to citizens in Charlottesville and across America. I think we are in an era where the issue of sexual violence is being discussed more and more—look at the work Joe Biden is doing—but changes still need to be made. Something we are working really hard on at UVA is community building and inclusivity. We want our events to be inviting to every member of the community, and I think is extremely important in sexual violence prevention. The Charlottesville community has been incredibly supportive of our events as well! Representatives from SARA and Help Save the Next Girl spoke at our events, and several local tech companies supported our Hack-a-Thon. Sexual violence isn’t an issue exclusive to UVA, it affects everyone.

How can students get involved with TBTN?

The most basic way is to attend our events! Every April, we have a Take Back the Night week, and the events are supposed to be fun and informative. It is a great way to initially gain perspective on the topic. Our applications to be on Take Back the Night committees are sent out late in the fall, and there is a committee for each event. Additionally, for people looking to get involved in sexual assault prevention more broadly, we are beginning a Student Working Committee on Sexual Violence Prevention, which will be open to any student to participate. This is a new initiative, and the goal is for students to dialogue and find solutions to issues surrounding sexual violence on Grounds.

What is your future vision for TBTN?

I want to be able to involve as many people in TBTN as possible. This is an issue that can affect everyone, and I think it is important to have everyone's voices heard. I am hoping that we continue to create new, engaging events that reach portions of the UVA community that haven’t previously been involved. This year, we sponsored a Hack-a-Thon with Women in Computing Sciences, and it was amazing! Teams created apps and websites to help students find a safe route home or connect survivors with confidential counselors online. I am continuously trying to envision new ideas for events that students would want to see. We also did a Take Back the Bar event this year as a way to reclaim a sometimes dangerous space and to empower students to be active bystanders. In our future, I hope we continue to expand the events and the communities that attend!