By Kate Irwin
Grinnell Advocates is a staff-supervised student organization that serves as support for individuals who have been victims of sexual assault, dating violence or sexual harassment. Additionally, the group raises awareness about sexual assault and dating violence on the College campus. The services of Grinnell Advocates are available to all students, such as people who may believe their friends are victims of such abuse.
Advocates receive training through their umbrella organization, Crisis Intervention Services (CIS). CIS has a campus outreach coordinator who serves as the liaison between Grinnell Advocates and CIS. The advocates receive the same training as those at CIS and are certified by the state as confidential resources.
Advocates must be recertified every two years. Organization members go through 30 hours of intensive training that educates them about laws in Iowa to which advocates must adhere, resources available to Advocates and victims, how to respond to calls on the hotline and how to effectively communicate with someone who is in shock or upset.
“It’s a really broad range, but basically [the training] prepares us for crisis intervention,” said Maddi Danks ’18, a member of Grinnell Advocates.
The Grinnell Advocates have a hotline that is staffed 24/7. During the weekly meeting, Advocates voluntarily sign up for 48 hour shifts. In addition to weekly group meetings, there are three subcommittees that meet regularly. These committees are outreach, marketing and special events.
The outreach committee makes connections with student groups to foster better relations and greater understanding of what the role of Grinnell Advocates is, and works to partner with existing student groups to create collaborative events. The marketing committee advertises the existence of this group, such as through posters or buttons. Special events works to highlight Sexual Assault Awareness Week, which takes place in February, and recently held events during Intimate Partner Violence Week.
Intimate Partner Violence Week took place in the beginning of November. Events included a coffee talk and tabling to distribute resources. Special events also partnered with Student Athletes Leading Social Change to host a walk to raise awareness of sexual assault.
Additionally, Grinnell Advocates hosted an ice cream social earlier this semester to increase their visibility on campus.
“I’m really hoping that we will be able to do more events with other groups. I think that it doesn’t necessarily have to look like a really serious sit-down talk. It’s very important that we have conversations and have the ability to connect with other people and to interest people in joining Advocates,” Danks said.
One of the goals of Grinnell Advocates is to make the services of Grinnell Advocates more known to the student body and to become more visible on campus, not only as a resource but as peers.
“One of things that we’ve been thinking about is trying to connect with the conversation that’s happening at a national level,” said Jane Jordan ’18, a member of Grinnell Advocates.
“We are trying to do much more outreach than we have done in the past as a group,” said Rob Cabelli, associate chaplain and rabbi.
Cabelli serves with the Rev. Deanna Shorb, chaplain and dean of religious life, as the two on-campus staff coordinators for Grinnell Advocates. Cabelli and Shorb serve to assist the advocates in planning events and informing the campus community about dynamics surrounding sexual assault to create a greater awareness about these issues.
“The students who are advocates, by virtue of their confidentiality, their training that they have, they can be a links to greater understanding of how students really experience the challenges of being on this small college campus much more acutely in many ways than those of us who are faculty or staff may be able to,” Cabelli said.
Danks became an advocate because of her experience before she came to Grinnell.
“Before I came to college, my mom made me take self-defense lessons and taught me ways to not get sexually assaulted and that was just very startling. I think it was because [sexual assault] is such a common narrative that it’s a coming of age thing, that you come to college and someone you know experiences sexual assault, or you experience sexual assault. It was really important to me to be a resource and be combating it as best I could,” Danks said.
Like Danks, Jordan was shocked by the normality of sexual assault on college campuses and was determined to do what she could to end sexual assault.
“They had a screening of ‘The Hunting Ground’ my first year, which is about sexual assault on college campuses. I remember coming out of that movie feeling pretty overwhelmed and not really knowing how I could constructively address the problem. And so Advocates felt like a really good way for me to start to understand the problem … and [have] some really concrete skills in terms of advocacy,” Jordan said.
Both Danks and Jordan feel that Advocates have given them skills that they can apply to their own lives and the lives of others after their time at Grinnell.
“It’s been really incredibly as far as the skills for dealing with crisis. … It’s given me a lot more confidence in my ability to handle crisis, whether that’s in the situation or in my own life,” Danks said.
“A large component of what we do when we have direct contact with people is listening. And I think that [listening] and asking open-ended questions is a really important piece of this week that I’ll take beyond [Grinnell College],” Jordan added.
There is an application that will be available next spring for students interested in joining Advocates.