By Madelyn Jones
Last week, the campus of Willamette University was informed of devastating news via The Collegian article, “Transfer student-athlete previously found responsible for sexual misconduct now attends Willamette.”
This news has left numerous students with difficult to process emotions, and it may have triggered survivors on campus. While individuals and the community heals from this information, there are many resources on campus to help that process.
Karen Wood and Gary Ellison, the university’s chaplains, explained, “Experiencing sexual violence or having a friend affected by sexual violence (whether as a survivor or as someone against whom a complaint has been made) can be devastating and disorienting. Having a safe place to process emotions, work through possible options, is important.”
They further explained how they could be helpful to the healing process by saying, “As chaplains we are here to offer you safe, supportive company while you go through big emotions, and then continue to be a caring presence as you figure out what’s the right thing to do. We can direct you to resources, offer guidance as to next steps and walk with you through the process.”
You can make an appointment with either chaplain avoid of religious affiliation, and they are a confidential resource.
The Sexual Assault Response Allies (SARA) are “a network of trained, unbiased peer advocates who provide confidential support, resources and education to all members of the Willamette University community who have experienced sexual or domestic harassment, assault, or violence,” as explained on their website, http://saresponseallies.wixsite.com/sara.
If you are looking for advice on ways to help a friend who was triggered by the news, SARA Coordinator Abby Sabo (‘18) explained it is important to know that “anyone feeling triggered… will respond to events like this in different ways… it is so important to remember that there is not one, normal reaction to something like this.”
With that in mind, Sabo emphasized, “it’s imperative that their feelings and reactions are validated. I cannot stress this enough: validation is the best thing you can do to support someone feeling triggered.”
To contact the SARAs, you can visit their website and make an appointment to meet with an advocate face-to-face or call their hotline at (503) 851-4245. Their hours are 5p.m. – 12a.m. on Sunday through Thursday, and 24-hours on Friday and Saturday.
Director of Bishop Wellness Center Don Thomson gave some words of advice, “Take care of yourself, acknowledge that you are impacted and pay attention to it. Honor your feelings as important and real.”
On the topic of helping friends, Thomson pointed to the acronym SILVER, meaning safety, inform, listen, validate, empower and refer. A more in depth explanation of this acronym can be found at Willamette’s website page “Help Someone.”
He also talked about ways to prevent sexual violence. Willamette’s “Not Alone” page suggests “promoting healthy and safe attitudes and beliefs about sexuality, empowering those who witness violence (bystanders) to speak out, developing interventions for young people who show risk factors of becoming perpetrators, promoting the status of women and girls and addressing the root causes of violence in our society.”
All of these suggestions can help create a safer culture on campus, with addition to “recommit[ing] yourself to bystander intervention,” as Thomson said.
On the topic of making a safe environment on campus, Sabo suggests, “as allies, advocates and friends the most important thing we can do is listen and believe survivors that are willing and able to tell their stories.”
If you are interested in meeting with a counselor at Bishop, they have walk-in hours every Monday-Friday from 11:30-12:30 a.m. They are a confidential resource along with WUTalk which is available 24/7 at (503)375-5353.
There are also accessible and readily equipped resources that are not Willamette-based but close to campus. The Center for Hope and Safety has a building only a few blocks away from campus. They also have a 24-hour anonymous hotline which you can reach at (503)399-7722. “Salem Hospital’s Emergency Department has trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners if needed,” explained Thomson.
With the number of resources on and close to campus, there should hopefully be a good fit for everyone. The faculty members mentioned have showed they understand the emotional impact this news has had on campus and are ready to support students.
Make sure to prioritize self-care during this time of processing. Getting off campus or out of Salem, even for a couple of hours, can be helpful to clear your mind. Remember that progress in processing is not a straight line, if one day you are doing worse than the last, that’s normal and okay.
Even if you have not felt emotionally impacted by this information, be aware that many people on campus are. Be aware that people may be having a hard time functioning after being triggered, be aware that some students are currently not feeling safe on campus. Be kind and understanding, and do everything you can to make the people around you feel safe. Do everything you can to help promote a culture on campus that does not tolerate sexual assault.