I’m a Peer Advocate of Sexual Respect.
That title means a lot of different things to different people. Some people will say, “They’re like the SHEs, aren’t they?” Some people will say, “Oh they did a workshop in my dorm once.” Others will say, “They helped me so much,” or, as I hear once in a blue moon: “The what? PAs? We have something like that on campus?” My freshman year it meant an opportunity to make a difference on the campus I’d just stepped onto several weeks prior, to fight against something that truly needed change.
I joined the PAs in the October of 2010. Now, it’s October again, but this time it’s 2012. And with everything that has been going on this past week, from the article in The Student, to the rally, to the press from Jezebel and the Huffington Post, I, along with the rest of the Peer Advocates want to say — we’re here. As students, we see the conversations that have been happening, and we see the hurt and confusion affecting this campus. But we are also here as a resource on campus, to listen, to connect you with every support system and resource you need and to stand by you and be absolutely committed to doing whatever we can in our power to help.
We apply to be PAs. There’s an application, an interview process and a training session over interterm, filled with everything from understanding the process behind the SANE (sexual assault nurse examiners) exam that collects evidence regarding sexual assault, to understanding on and off campus disciplinary and legal options and knowing emotional support options, content information on relationship abuse, sexual assault, harassment, bystander intervention, consent and the intersection of sexism with other forms of oppression as it impacts sexual violence. We hear from experts within their fields who come to teach us and give us the tools we need to deal with difficult experiences. We practice talking over and over again, and role play with each other.
And then we get out into the real world. We use our training experiences. We talk to students, or friends of students about everything from the “romantic to the traumatic.” We rotate the PA hotline, each of us for a week, so that we can be available to you 24/7, with a back up of a different gender if needed. We are prepared to talk with students right after they’ve been assaulted too, making sure to help them navigate their emotional experiences, and also to mention things like emergency contraception, STI testing and SANE exams.
But we’re here. To listen, to help in whatever way we can and to support you. As trained Peer Advocates, and as fellow students too. We’re people your age, people with a student’s perspective of this campus and everything that surrounds it. There are also other people here on this campus who can be resources, several of whom I’ve listed at the bottom of this letter (including off-campus resources) so that people do know that there are options out there.
This campus, and its culture, policies, views and actions when it comes to sexual assault still have a long way to go, as most college campuses do. Even one sexual assault is one too many, and until that number reaches zero, I’ll continue to be a part of the movement to live in a world without sexual violence. But as of now, it still happens here — even at Amherst College. And to have those voices heard, supported and validated is one of the most important things I think that we can do as students on this campus.
List of resources:
Center for Women and Community: (413) 545-0800; Peer Advocate of Sexual Respect 24/7 Hotline: (413) 548-6798; Sexual Respect Counselor: (413) 658-5675; Dean of Students Office: (413) 542-2337; University Health Center Urgent Care: (413) 545-5000; Title IX Coordinator: (413) 542-8266