For the past few days, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of attending the Association of Student Conduct Administrators (ASCA) Conference in St. Pete’s Beach, FL. It has been such a wonderful experience. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from and engage and connect with such influential contributors to my field. I feel like a sponge (corny analogy), but it’s completely true.
Today I had the opportunity to hear Dana Bolger, an activist and Executive Director of Know Your IX, speak to the attendees at my conference. Dana is my age (which, I will admit, made me feel exceptionally small), and I was truly humbled to be in her presence. She addressed members of our field about what survivors want from a university resolution process. She spoke about prioritizing care over compliance (a lofty task in our current landscape of risk management within higher education), providing student survivors with confidential resources on campus (aka: fewer mandatory reporters), and the social, physical, and financial burden that our student survivors often carry. Hearing Dana speak fed my soul, and it awakened something in me that has been sleeping for a long time.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have been a strong advocate for sexual assault survivors, prevention, and education– specifically on college campuses. When I arrived to college as a Freshman, I discovered that I identified as a feminist, and in my second semester of Freshman year, I began working with an undergraduate peer education group to educate students, faculty, and staff on sexual assault prevention and healthy relationships promotion. Many of my friends and family probably wondered why I became so invested in this issue– I also believe that, deep down, most of them know why.
This post is not about my own experience, although it’s completely fair to say that my experiences inform my opinion. As a new professional in this field, It can sometimes be hard for me to sit in meetings or listen to conversations where my colleagues bemoan Title IX legislation or the issues of compliance surrounding sexual assault and personal power-based violence on our campuses. I understand that it is SO hard (damn near impossible at times) to remain legally compliant with often conflicting legislature. In order to keep up, many Student Conduct and Title IX professionals find themselves in need of a law degree to keep up, when the reality is that most of us signed up for this gig because we care about students and their success. I pursued this work professionally, in part, due to my own experience, but also because of a mentor who consoled, pushed, and revitalized me after one of the most emotionally exhausting and confusing times of my life. As selfish as it may sound- who wouldn’t want to be that for someone?
My point (not succinct at all…but I apologize) is that this work is important because it impacts students and their ability to thrive, survive, and exist as members of our campus communities. Sometimes in student conduct and Title IX Administration, it can feel very “us vs. them,” (us being administrators and them being students). It is often a thankless job where no one wins, and everyone leaves feeling bad about what did and will happen. In a time of increasing (and justified) calls for legal compliance, it is important to remember that there are people behind these laws and these people have stories. Listen to these stories and validate the lived experiences of our students. Our students very often progress and become our colleagues, and inevitably their lived experiences shape policy and best practice in the field. Imagine how frustrating it is for a survivor of campus sexual violence to sit at a table in a conference, a staff meeting, or among colleagues and listen to people complain about responding to these incidents and complying with federal law. If you think that compliance as an administrator is hard, try navigating feelings of shame and embarrassment as a survivor who’s seeking justice in a system administered by professionals who are angry and stressed about trying to navigate compliance.
So much has changed in the six years since I was a Freshman. I am grateful to be a part of a generation who demands engagement with issues of campus sexual violence. I am grateful for mentors who continue to inspire me to use my experiences to serve others, and I am honored to be a part of this field.