Back in Black

Back in Black

Thursdays in Black invites students to stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence

Thursdays in Black is a nation-wide student-led campaign devoted to preventing and responding to sexual violence in tertiary spaces - and it’s back for another year in Dunedin.

Thursdays in Black is aimed at removing stigma and spreading awareness around sexual violence, whilst at the same time providing a safe space for those who have been affected. “We wanna be proactive and preventative in the measures we take, and stop it before it happens,” says Eli. The organisation is focused on “survivor-led healing”, where victims of sexual violence feel safe, believed and heard, and that their needs are met in every step of the process. TiB understands that sexual violence is varied, complex and intersectional, impacting different communities on campus in different ways, particularly the queer and minority communities. Thus, Eli says they operate in an “equity-based framework”, providing spaces where all survivors feel comfortable and safe to speak to them and each other, giving extra support to those in more vulnerable situations.


“We encourage people to wear black on Thursdays as a symbol of standing in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence,” says Melissa. It’s an easy way to get involved and show support for the cause: “Everyone owns black clothing.” For students looking to get more involved in the campaign, they can join the TiB Otago volunteer crew on Facebook, or sign up through OUSA. The co-directors encourage students to not shy away from the conversation. “People can get intimidated by it,” says Melissa. “Dealing with heavy topics, it’s not light work. But it’s not like all of our meetings are super dark and heavy. We operate on the underlying values of openness, being welcoming, and providing a safe space.”


The organisation is always looking for people to get involved, even if it's just wearing black on Thursdays. Volunteers can help with fundraising, exhibitions, manning stalls, spreading awareness, or writing for the TiB blog. “There’s something for everyone,” says Melissa.


The organisation has a working relationship with Te Whare Tāwharau, the Uni’s sexual violence support and prevention centre. Melissa says, “It's a great step by the Uni that unfortunately other universities in NZ have not taken.” The fact that there’s a whole centre on campus devoted to providing immediate support is awesome,” says Eli. The University also consults TiB on their sexual misconduct policies, and runs annual workshops on consent in halls. However, while the organisation feels that the University has a challenging job dealing with the sexual violence at Otago, there needs to be some improvement. “There is an imbalance of power when survivor victims go to the University, and survivors often feel like they are the ones on trial,” explains Melissa. TiB would like to see the process become “a bit more flexible”, where the University upholds the survivor in a way that they feel supported and believed.


Ben Nevell, co-ordinator of the University’s Sexual Misconduct Action Response Team, says their Sexual Misconduct Policy is “explicitly survivor led…It is the affected party who gets to decide whether they want support, accommodations, protective measures or a formal investigation.” The Uni also says it has obligations to ensure the “safety, wellbeing and legal rights of the respondent are also protected.” However, the affected party is provided with “full support and advocacy, and every effort is made to ensure the affected party feels believed and supported throughout the process.”


Overall, TiB are appreciative of the University’s effort to better their handling of sexual misconduct at uni. “I don’t think the University has an easy job at all. We are here to help provide those solutions to an incredibly complex issue,” says Melissa.


Dunedin culture also has a role to play in determining how the issue plays out at our university. Eli says that “the culture of parties can put people in vulnerable situations, and that’s when bad things happen.” However, while party culture contributes to these issues, the co-directors have faith in Dunedin students. “Breatha culture and party culture makes this sort of thing more prevalent in Dunedin,” says Melissa. “But change can come from within.” TiB wants to keep the fun party culture, while making it safe, and Dunedin students have some responsibility to ensure that happens: “All it takes is a couple people calling out their mates.”


Thursdays in Black is back, and they are currently looking for new exec members and volunteers to join the crew: “If you have ideas, flick us a message. We would love as many people as possible to get involved.” You can catch TiB on Tuesday, March 14 at post-clubs day from 12-1pm, or every fortnight in the link. They can also be found on Instagram at @thursdaysinblackotago or on Facebook at TiB Otago.


Oh, and remember to wear black on Thursdays. 

This article first appeared in Issue 3, 2023.
Posted 2:01pm Sunday 12th March 2023 by Anna Robertshawe.