The Service Balance – Passion and Practicality: Ellen Wimmer Undergraduate Service Scholar Project

By Ellen Wimmer –

Undergraduate Service Scholar Ellen Wimmer '17
Undergraduate Service Scholar Ellen Wimmer ’17

After my first full semester as an A&M student, it became very clear that sexual assault and harassment was a prevailing issue on the A&M campus. I spoke to many women about this issue and decided to take an informal poll of 30 female friends. Out of these 30, each of these women had experienced at least 2 separate accounts of pervasive sexual harassment. From being yelled at while walking to class, to persistent stalking. 25 of the 30 women had experienced physical, sexual assault. This included groping, being slapped, and cornered into a room. 18 of the 30 women had been raped during their time at Texas A&M. This troubled me to my core, and I decided to do something about it.

My experience working with the Department of Student Life to improve sexual assault and harassment resources during my time here at A&M has been a long a winding endeavor. This experience did not turn out at all like I had imagined, but looking back I am so grateful for the complications and roadblocks that forced me to fine-tune my goals. This experience has opened my eyes to the collaborative nature of service work, and how one must balance their own passion with practicality to ensure that they are doing the most good possible.

Campus sexual assault and harassment is a complicated and intense problem. Often it is difficult to decide where to start. Whenever I asked women in the informal poll why they choose not to report many said that a. They did not believe that “it was bad enough” to merit a report, b. they “didn’t want to make a big deal out of it and just wanted to forget” and c. They did not know how to report and did not know what A&M could realistically do for them with the information they had. Responses A and B are directly related to rape culture; a culture that places responsibility of the assault on the victim and attempts to minimize the crime. However, response C is something I could help with.

During my past internship at SARC (Sexual Assault Resource Center, prev. Brazos Valley Rape Crisis Center), a colleague had told me about a new sexual assault/harassment reporting software called Callisto. Callisto is a program made by survivors for survivors, and is a reporting program that offers features that survivors wish that they had after their assault. It is a online software that college campuses can purchase and integrate into their own infrastructure. I pitched this to the Dean of Student Life, and was turned down due to “lack of funding”.

The words “lack of funding” rang in my ears as I walked home past the new $450 million dollar Kyle Field Stadium, and decided I needed a new plan. I decided to work with what A&M already has. I wanted to centralize, enhance, and advertise for a stronger, more student-friendly reporting system. One that students can submit reports on from their phones, as well as pictures and videos of bystander evidence. I created an easy-to-use website layout that would consolidate existing sexual assault and harassment resources on to one site, and include a new trauma-informed report form like the one utilized by Callisto.

I spent months meeting with involved parties (Student Life, Student Affairs, Marketing and Communications, University Police Department, Information Technology, Buetel Health, Risk and Compliance,) trying to get all to agree on one universally used, campus-wide website. No department was willing to change to a “new” system, despite that fact that their user experience would not change at all; it would only provide more resources for student users. It was turned down. Frustrated and tired, I stopped and thought about what it is I really wanted to do with my remaining time at Texas A&M. What can I realistically offer that will be used by staff to help the students? What can I offer?

I started writing; every day for at least three hours. Writing my own recommendations for a better sexual assault and harassment system. Everything from reporting form enhancements and advertising techniques to articles on trauma-informed language when dealing with survivors. I took every meeting, conversation, article, and idea I had over the past year and created one easy-to-use resource manual. This November, I will give this manual to my capstone supervisor at the Department of Student Life, the amazing Kristen Harrell. By having her reference this manual during administrative discussions, it allows my ideas and the input of my peers to have a voice in the future of sexual assault and harassment resources at Texas A&M.

Service is about passion, but also about practicality. You have to care about what you do. You have to feel attached to your cause. Passion is crucial, but too much can induce tunnel vision. My biggest take away from this capstone is something that I look forward to applying to my future in service. That is, balance. One must balance their passion with practicality. I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into solving campus rape culture at Texas A&M. I wanted to leave this school knowing that I had virtually erased sexual assault from the college culture. When you are this passionate about a cause, no goal seems too big. I learned that this issue cannot be solved in 1 year. This issue cannot be solved in 5 years.

Campus sexual assault and harassment is complicated and thus requires a complicated solution. It involves numerous people and departments with different ideas and goals, not just myself. This seems obvious now, but it was something I needed to learn through experience. By leaving A&M with a less-grand but more practical resource, I believe that I have done everything I can for this cause at this time. Perhaps in 10 years I will come back and work as Title IX director with a larger staff and more funding. Perhaps in 15 years of students speaking up with force the change that we need to see at A&M. I encourage future undergraduate service scholars to be flexible, to reflect often, and prioritize balance in their service, as well as their lives.

For more information about the Undergraduate Service Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/capstones or contact Dr. Suma Datta (capstones@tamu.edu).

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