Listen and Be Heard
The Feminist Club enables students to support their peers through victim-advocacy training
by Rachel Terran (’18)
Westminster students are eager to confront nationwide social-justice issues that impact the campus community. In fact, Westminster was the first campus in Utah to host a Start by Believing campaign—a campaign that asks people to start believing others when they say they have been affected by interpersonal violence.
Shocking statistics around sexual assault and rape led Westminster student leaders to take action. The college’s Feminist Club worked with alumna Laurie Hofmann (MACL ’15) to bring the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA) to campus to conduct its 40-hour, state-certified victim advocacy training and bring a comprehensive peer support program to campus. A mentor in Westminster’s Alumni Mentoring Program, Laurie is a certified sexual-assault counselor and serves as the chair of the board for UCASA. Her involvement with the Feminist Club to train campus members is the first partnership of its kind in the state.
“There have always been programs in which students could be trained as victim advocates. However, nothing like the partnership between an undergraduate student group like the Feminist Club and UCASA has occurred before in Utah,” Laurie says.
The proposal to bring the UCASA training program to Westminster was made by Sabi Lowder, president of the Feminist Club at Westminster. Sabi and Laurie met through the Utah Chapter for UN women. As Sabi and Laurie began to bounce ideas off one another, Laurie took the initiative to approach UCASA about bringing its program to Westminster.
“Our goal is to not only support the people affected by interpersonal violence (or sexual assault), but to change campus culture, meaning that if there are 10 students who are 40-hour trained, they’ll hopefully be taking that new perspective with them into their social lives on campus and hopefully impact and reduce rape culture,” Sabi says.
The program is designed to create an environment where peers can support people affected by interpersonal violence. “Professors, resident advisors, and faculty are all mandatory reporters,” explains Sabi. “We wanted to create another resource for students where they could talk to someone about their experience outside of Title IX procedures. The SLICE grant, which we received through Civic Engagement, specifically subsidizes non-mandatory reporters.”
The SLICE grant also enables members of the Feminist Club to make a space available for students who want to share their stories in an understanding environment. Cases of sexual assault and rape have become more and more common nationwide, which has prompted dialogue around ways in which communities are going to support those who want to share their stories.
A life-changing event such as sexual assault or rape is often difficult for people to communicate about. While peers want to support members of their community, it can be hard to know how to respond to a traumatic event. What the Feminist Club wants to convey is that there are individuals available to listen.
Sabi describes her experience with the Feminist Club as a supportive community of people who really want to help others. She envisions safe environments on campus where those who have been affected by sexual assault can have outlets and feel supported. Her personal experience with sexual assault is a driving force behind her passion to help others. In her first year at Westminster she found places where she felt supported and wants to see the same thing for others.
“People on campus really care,” says Sabi. “When this idea came up, there were so many people who worked to pull it together.” Sabi describes the training program with UCASA as her “baby,” her main focus, and where she is directing the majority of her attention. She has found the most effective avenue to address this nationwide issue to be a campus club.
UCASA and the Feminist Club decided to present the program on campus for the Westminster community only. One aspect of the program that makes it unique is that it is completely voluntary for those who express personal interest.
“I want this to be an annual training that is lasting on Westminster’s campus,” Sabi says.
The November 2016 training was designed to draw interested students and provide the resources for them. Dedicated Westminster students are committing 40 concentrated hours on their weekends to becoming a resource to fellow students in need of support. UCASA conducts training statewide for people who want to become advocates. Westminster has taken the initiative to support campaigns and trainings that will make an impact on students and set a precedent for other colleges and universities in the state.
From National Sexual Violence Resource Center:
- One in five women and one in seventy-one men will be raped in their lifetimes, one in three women in Utah.
- One in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted while in college.
- Eighty-one percent of women and thirty-five percent of men report short-term or long-term impacts of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- Rape is the most under-reported crime: sixty-three percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police. Only twelve percent of child sexual abuse is reported to the authorities.
- More than ninety percent of sexual-assault victims on campuses do not report the assault.
- In eight out of ten cases of rape, the victims knew the person who sexually assaulted them.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.