Senior history major MaryGrace Mancini leads the audience in a chant in preparation for a campus march at the conclusion of Niagara University's seventh Take Back the Night event. Mancini received the Nicholas Albano Student Advocacy Award at the event.

The strength of survivors of sexual assault was the focus of Niagara University’s annual “Take Back the Night” event on April 18, 2024. Hundreds of Niagara University students, faculty, and staff were joined by members of the community at the event, now in its seventh year, which aims to end gender-based violence in all forms, including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

“This year’s theme is ‘Radiating Resilience,’ as we are emphasizing the ability students and our community have to not only overcome the unimaginable, but to continue to move forward and share their stories and experiences with others,” said Dr. Jennifer Beebe, associate professor of counseling, who organized the event with Dr. Dana Radatz, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, and Emily Pike, director of Niagara University’s Office of Violence Prevention & Education. “At the same time, the event honors victims, survivors, and gives voice to a topic that historically is not discussed openly.”

Local organizations offered information and resources at tables in the university’s Gallagher Center gym before a program that included remarks by the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., Niagara University president; Dr. Debra Colley, NU’s executive vice president; and Pike. Rachel Sandle-Sacco, rape crisis program supervisor at the YWCA of the Niagara Frontier, which co-sponsored the event, gave an overview the organization, which is the certified provider of confidential crisis counseling for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Niagara County.

“Tonight is really about continuing on the path to stand against relational violence in all its forms and all its instances, to mobilize ourselves and our collective energy and our systems to respond,” said Father Maher. “But I also ask you to listen for stories of resiliency and strength for hope and life, because they're here this evening. And grab hold of them and be an ambassador and messenger of that hope. As your president, I pledge to you that we will continue on this path to make Niagara University a place that promotes safe, healthy, and well communities.”

Featured speaker Rebecca Roessler, ’16, M.S.’17, shared her story of survival after being a victim of an internet predator at the age of 14. Her testimony against the man, who was a Level 2 registered sex offender, helped to indict him. Today, as a crime victim advocate with the Niagara County Sheriff's Office, she helps other survivors.

“I strive to be that advocate that can help those who are at their lowest point find their resiliency, whatever definition and path that takes them, because every path is different for each and every one of us,” she said.

During a brief award ceremony, history professor Dr. Shannon Risk received the Excellence in Leadership & Advocacy Award and senior history major MaryGrace Mancini was honored with the Nicholas Albano Student Advocacy Award. The award is named for a former student leader who passed away unexpectedly in 2017 after battling epilepsy.

The event also included a performance of "Found/Tonight" by the 2024 Take Back the Night choir, directed by Dr. Bridget Moriarty, assistant professor of theatre, and a student march led by Dr. Cheryl Rode, associate professor in the College of Hospitality, Sport, and Tourism Management.

A restorative reflection at the university’s Castellani Art Museum concluded the evening. The ceremony, hosted by the Seven Dancers Coalition, included smudging, a form of healing prayer during which sage was burned.

Proceeds from the event were donated to the YWCA.

Take Back the Night is a nonprofit charity with the mission of ending sexual violence in all forms, including sexual assault, sexual abuse, dating violence, and domestic violence. TBTN empowers survivors in the healing process and has hosted events throughout the world for over 50 years.