Trigger Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
As all of us in higher education know, sexual assault on college campuses is a topic that has come to the forefront of national attention in the past year. Nationally, the conversation has been focused on ways colleges and universities can better improve our response to student survivors of sexual assault, and there are a lot of differing opinions as to what those responses should look like. As student affairs professionals, many of us have been immersed in these conversations on our campuses – I certainly know I have.
I have worked in student conduct for almost 15 years. We’re a small field (possibly the tiniest subset of student affairs) and we tend to know each other pretty well. I am also a prolific tweeter, talking about lots of things related to #stuconduct, which, inevitably, includes topics surrounding sexual violence, Title IX, and the Violence Against Women Act. I expected that social media would connect me to my colleagues to discuss such important topics… but I never expected the conversations to become so personal.
Over the past year, several student affairs folks, have shared with me their stories of surviving sexual violence as a student on campus. For the most part, these are people I have never met face to face, and I have been deeply touched by their trust and vulnerability. While their reasons for starting these conversations with me varied, as the conversations progressed, a lot of themes emerged:
- Feeling that their institution handled the situation poorly, and working through their disappointment not just as a survivor but as student affairs professional
- Wanting to pursue legal options – lawsuits, Clery complaints, OCR complaints – but being reluctant to do so for fear it would damage their career opportunities in the future
- For current students, struggles in dealing with administrators, who are often mentors, knowing about the situation and still interacting with those folks both professionally and, potentially, as an impacted student
- Dealing with triggers that occur in their professional work
- Worries about how disclosing that they are a survivor will impact their career opportunities down the road – for example, “If people know I am a survivor, will I ever be perceived as fair in investigating or resolving sexual misconduct cases as a conduct officer, future dean of students, etc.?”
But the biggest theme that emerged was a sense of isolation, that each of these individuals were alone without anyone to relate to their experiences. We know that’s not the case, but the question that arose was how can people connect around this extremely personal topic, especially when folks are concerned about how identifying as a survivor might impact their career? After a lot of conversations and thought, #sasurvives was created.
For the month of August, The Student Affairs Collective will be running a series of pieces written by some of our colleagues who are survivors of campus sexual violence. Our contributors to this series are extremely diverse – we will hear from people of color, from men, from women, and from folks who identify as part of the LGBTQ community. Each is telling their story, in their way, and I am sincerely thankful for their courage and willingness to share with us. I hope you follow along with us this month by using the hashtag #sasurvives.
If you are a survivor of sexual violence, know there are many resources available to help. For current #sagrads, your campus counseling center is a great resource. For #sapros, you may have access to an Employee Assistance Program as part of your benefits package – check with your Human Resources department if you’re not sure. Additionally, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is available to 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673. Lastly, anyone can search online for their nearest crisis center at http://centers.rainn.org/. Please take care of yourself and know you’re not alone.
If you would like to contribute to this series, we do have slots available, and we will post contributions anonymously. Please contact us at email@example.com for more information.