They told two different stories of sexual assault, but SUNY Cortland students Cyrenius Nelson and Christina Hatzinikolaou both shared a sense of empowerment after telling their stories of survival to a crowd gathered Wednesday night in front of Corey Union.
Hatzinikolaou told of how she cried every day for three months following an assault in 2018 — an attack which came in her dorm room when, as a resident assistant, she let a fellow student in to use her laptop.
And Nelson shared the feelings of self blame and guilt he faced after his sexual assault at the hands of a girlfriend when he was 20. As a black man, Nelson said, he was afraid he would wind up behind bars himself if he told what had happened and it wasn’t believed.
But both Nelson and Hatzinikolaou found a community of support at SUNY Cortland, through the Title IX Office, the Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER) club which they are both a part of, and faculty and fellow students on campus.
A large community of supporters gathered Wednesday night on the steps of Corey Union, during the campus Take Back the Night event in which students marched through campus and into downtown Cortland chanting slogans like, “Hey hey, ho ho, sexual assault has got to go” and “Two, four, six, eight, no more rape.”
Hatzinikolaou said she hopes by sharing her story it will inspire other people who have been assaulted to come forward and seek help — as she did. And Nelson said students have to continue to support one another so survivors like him can “continue to survive together.”
“Sexual assault can affect anyone at any time and in any relationship,” Nelsons aid. “It is not your fault and you are not alone.”
Hatzinikolaou said she hopes her story of coming forward against a popular male athlete will inspire others to feel that their stories will be believed too.
The Take Back the Night movement harks back to the 1970s, said campus Title IX Coordinator Nan Pasquarello, as she addressed the crowd Wednesday before the march.
The movement aims to bring awareness to issues of sexual assault and domestic violence, said Tatiana Nolan, vice president of the Students Active For Ending Rape club on campus. The club has about 25 members, Nolan said, and it holds Take Back the Night marches once a semester — in April for sexual assault awareness month — and in October for domestic violence awareness month.
Hatzinikolaou said that after she reported the assault, it was found that she wasn’t the only person assaulted by that student. He later admitted what he did and was expelled from SUNY Cortland.
This helped her find closure, Hatzinikolaou said, but it also rattled her because then she realized he knew what he was doing at the time was wrong.
Hatzinikolaou attended last October’s Take Back the Night rally and started to think about sharing her own story — after doing it Wednesday, Hatzinikolaou said it felt “very powerful.”
She hopes maybe her words will inspire someone else to find their voice.
“I don’t know who it affected in that crowd,” she said.