Student Life

Founders Discuss the Creation of the Voices of Gordon, Awareness Efforts on Campus

The Voices of Gordon was created this past July as an Instagram account and a platform where current students and alumni could share about their sexual assault. Since then, it has grown to have over eight hundred followers on Instagram. Cydnee Szumierz, Sarah Hutchison, and Abby Vampatella each run the account. 

This past week the Voices of Gordon hosted a three-part event for Sexual Assault Awareness Week. They covered 1. Myths surrounding assault, 2. Testimonies from fellow students who are survivors, and 3. A Title IX informational panel. 

Cydnee Szumierz, Sarah Hutchison, and Abby Vampatella were kind enough to discuss the creation of the Voices of Gordon and the events hosted this past week with Hope Rawlson via Zoom.

Hope Rawlson: Starting from the beginning, how did you all decide to create the Voices of Gordon Instagram account? Was there an event that prompted it? 

Cydnee Szumierz: So it all started back in quarantine around summertime and the three of us didn’t know each other then. The account was originally created because we had all heard separately people sharing stories or experiences of sexual assault that happened on campus. We’d also heard lots of different people talk about how there was such a prevalent issue on campus, but because it’s a Christian campus some people were ignorant to how profound of an issue it actually is. We were hoping that it would just kind of start to raise awareness around campus.

Hope Rawlson: How did you all find each other considering you didn’t know one another when Cydnee Szumierz created the account? 

Sarah Hutchinson: Cydnee Szumierz started it and then we reached out to her and through her, we were DMing the account saying, ‘we need to meet up with this person who wrote so and so’ and that’s pretty much how it went.

Abby Vampatella: I DMed the account and was like “I want to help in whatever way possible, this issue really hits home for me”  and, basically, “let me know what I can do.”

Hope Rawlson: When you first created the account, what kind of reactions did you get? Did you expect the kind of reactions that you got? 

Cydnee Szumierz: It was kind of shocking because we didn’t really think many people would join in, take part, or be interested. But, we saw current students and alumni really were passionate and wanted to help out and spread awareness. And I think that’s really how we felt about this past week too. We weren’t sure how many people would come to events and care about this issue, but it’s clear that our student body really cares.

Hope Rawlson: During the process of the Instagram account, what kind of feedback did you get from students? Did you get different kinds of feedback from survivors versus nonsurvivors? Did you get any responses from men? 

Cydnee Szumierz: I was flooded with positive feedback! It was super encouraging to know that this account was helping people to share their stories and feel heard and seen, some for the first time. The submissions and feedback mainly were from female survivors or people who said ‘Oh my friend’s a survivor and this is encouraging.’ There were a few others who would just reach out saying ‘this account is doing harm to campus,’ things like that. I’m a people pleaser, so at first, that really stressed me out because I didn’t want to be causing harm to anyone! But then we all talked and decided like the pros of this account and its impact outweigh the cons. Even if the issue might be triggering to some people, it’s still such an important topic for people to become more aware of. There were a few men that reached out, but more so anonymously than through the DMs.

Hope Rawlson: Do you identify the Voices of Gordon as a platform for people’s voices more than a group that shares statistics or information about assault? Or, do you find it to be a mix of some sort? 

Sarah Hutchinson: I think it began as a platform for sharing stories. But through us reaching out to Cydnee specifically and wanting to do more, it became both. 

Hope Rawlson: I am interested in how you all decided to create an Instagram account rather than a formal group on campus. How did you decide that and are you planning on forming an official club? 

Sarah Hutchinson: I really wanted to have a support group type thing, because after my assault there was a group of girls that really helped me and they navigated the reporting process with me which was really helpful. I reached out to Cydnee and said, ‘I want to make this thing happen.’ That’s where it started, I wanted to do it as a support group first. We actually did almost go down the route of making it a club. We talked to some other people and were almost discouraged from it and were also discouraged ourselves because the whole process of trying to go through and make it a club was just a lot of work for no reward.

Cydnee Szumierz: Yeah I agree and it was tricky in terms of the confidentiality pieces. Because we would need a head of the club, they would be a mandated reporter, and if someone wanted to come and get support, then it wouldn’t be confidential because it would need to be reported. So it made it confusing to try and create a safe space if we would have to report anything that was said. It was a lot of the small details that were really complicated. Starting a club seemed like a great idea, but then to actually try to get it approved brought about a lot of difficulties.

Hope Rawlson: Moving more onto this past week and the three events that you all put on, what did you expect going into the week? Did the events exceed your expectations? 

Abby Vampatella: I literally thought there was going to be ten people at Monday night’s event. I was not expecting anything at all. I feel like we didn’t know how well the word had gotten out. We knew some people weren’t cleared yet, due to COVID, because they were coming back from break. We just had no idea what to expect. We thought it would be pretty controversial. We had been putting posters up and chalk out, but again, we had no idea what to expect. I was like,
“Oh my gosh, is Tupper way too big for this?.” 

Cydnee Szumierz: We thought that there were going to be two tables in the middle full and that’s it. 

Abby Vampatella: I was so encouraged on Monday and to see just such a mix of people there, was super awesome. Based on feedback and what we saw from Monday, I was expecting a lot of people on Wednesday, which is what we had. There were almost a hundred people on Zoom and Lane was completely filled, which is awesome. Thursday was our least attended, but there were still about 45 people combined with online and in-person. Personally, I was absolutely blown away. I think every single thing about the week went perfectly– literally perfectly. It was a blessing to see because we prayed about this a lot and we put so many hours into the week. To see the result from that was so exciting, especially for this being the first time that this has ever been done at Gordon. It is super hopeful for the upcoming years. 

Hope Rawlson: Each of you shared on Wednesday about the assault that you each had experienced and talked about how it had been a few years or more since that happened. What changed during that time that allowed you to share about it now? How did you each prepare to talk about it during Wednesday night’s event? 

Sarah Hutchinson: For me, I never really hid my story. If people asked, I was willing to talk about it with them because I knew how important it was for people to hear the story and to help other people who need support. I never really was quiet about my story, but I obviously did not just tell everybody. I did not think that I was going to speak until a few days before, I was like, “no, I’m not going to do it because I don’t speak in public at all.” That was a huge hurdle for me that I did that. I thought it was important for me to tell my story as part of my healing process and to contribute to the conversation on campus. 

Cydnee Szumierz: The three of us were wanting to puke on Wednesday, we were so nervous, but then I think I realized that the outcome of sharing my testimony is so much more important than how we felt. I will say, though, that emotionally it was a very tiring week just to have sexual assault constantly on the mind. I think that’s probably why we are all feeling super drained this weekend. However, personally, I’m in a much healthier space than I was before [in the past year], which was why I was able to take part in leading this. For instance, if someone, even last year, had asked me to take part in this, I don’t know necessarily if I would’ve been able to. Through therapy, sharing my story, and just different outlets, I’ve been able to heal and now really want to be able to help other survivors. 

Abby Vampatella: Yeah. I would definitely echo what you, Cydnee, said. A couple of months after I was raped, I wanted to make it public so that I could expose him, but then also there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding rape and misconceptions that I had too, and I wanted to debunk those by sharing my experience. I wanted to be able to share with people that “this” is what people think rape is but, “this” is also what rape is. As I got more removed from the event and healed more as Cyd said, it became less of a, ‘I want revenge’ and, in a more mature spot, understanding a healthy way to share my story. Sharing publicly is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. I was definitely in a healthy enough space to do it. I just feel so passionately about the fact that people are so uneducated and there are so many misconceptions. You never want to force someone to come forward with their story at all, but also people need to share their story in order for other people to understand this issue better. 

Hope Rawlson: Yeah, thank you. Some of you talked on Wednesday about how this experience has affected your faith. How has your experience as a survivor affected your faith? 

Abby Vampatella: The spring of my sophomore year, and then continuing into my junior year, I had to go through a bunch of stuff with Title IX, to make sure he couldn’t go back on campus and was going through therapy, and I had a bunch of other personal stuff going on. I think I reached a point where I had no other choice, and I talked about this on Wednesday, but to choose to rely on God or not. I finally kind of reached a breaking point where I just had to fully decide to rely on Him to get me through those things. I’m really glad that I made those decisions because I think it helped me to heal a lot better than it if I turned my back on Him. I definitely wrestled with, ‘why are these things going on?’ ‘Why can I not catch a break?’ Yet, by the end of the day, firmly believing that everything happens for a reason, that God still has his hand on my life, was something that got me through that. I think my faith is stronger now because I’ve been able to get past those things.

Hope Rawlson: I am really interested in who you each are outside of this issue. Obviously, you are all extremely passionate and educated on this topic so is this something that you want to make your career? Who are you in relation to this issue?

Sarah Hutchinson: I definitely am passionate about it and I do want to keep telling my story and help survivors. I don’t think it’s ever really been a career goal for me, though. I don’t even know how comfortable I am with sharing outside of Gordon and outside of close friendships because my family doesn’t even know about my assault yet. I would like to in some capacity, at some point in my life, support survivors on a close like one-to-one basis, but I don’t have any specific ideas or plans for that, at least not now. 

Cydnee Szumierz: Yeah. It’s actually funny that you ask that because last week during the events I was thinking how this is something that I’m so passionate about and I could see myself wanting to help educate more people in the future! But, I don’t know exactly what that would look like. I think maybe I could see myself volunteering at a place like the North Shore Rape Crisis Center, with my church group, or things like that. At this time I don’t want to necessarily focus on this career-wise, but as a psychology major, it’s certainly related and could totally work someday. I think I’m still trying to figure out how involved I want to get in the topic.

Abby Vampatella: I’ve wanted to be a collegiate basketball coach for a long time. Going through what I’ve gone through and having teammates who’ve gone through similar things, I can use that as an experience to mentor college students, because I know as a college coach, I’m going to have athletes who go through the same thing, whether it’s my athletes or other athletes in the department. Being vocal about my experience and being a place for people to go to and helping them get through it, is something that I definitely plan on doing. I don’t know, career-wise, if I could, I have kind of thought about how it could be cool to work for RAINN or something like that. I think that would be down the road because, even after this week, that was so emotionally draining, the thought of doing that as a career, I would still need a whole lot more time where I could invest and think about that stuff every single day. 

Hope Rawlson: Moving forward, what is your vision for what you ideally would want Gordon to look like? How do you hope to see people interacting with this issue on campus? 

Sarah Hutchinson: We definitely want this to continue yearly and potentially even go beyond that. One of the things that we all kind of had in common was the fact that we were not really educated on it to begin with. At the beginning of the year or when you’re a freshman, there is usually a sexual assault online thing that people just click through and then they get their chapel credit, and then they can go on with their day. It’s not really a thing that is talked about. It’s still very taboo for whatever reason. Even when there are mandatory things because it’s so few and far between, I feel like it’s not taken as seriously as it should be. 

Hope Rawlson: Definitely, thank you. What does the Voices of Gordon look like moving forward? Are you planning on doing more events like this, or other kinds of events? 

Sarah Hutchinson: I think we would like to. Somebody from SJI already reached out to us, and somebody else even. There’s a lot of people that actually want to reach out and do stuff with us, which is awesome. 

Cydnee Szumierz: I think we’ll still do the sexual assault awareness week each year. And then maybe a few events scattered throughout! I know you had asked earlier if the Voices of Gordon was just sharing people’s stories or also educating people and I think after this week of events, hopefully, we’re going to meet soon and figure out more ways to do both. Either by posting regular educational content or by having other events and different things. We definitely will continue sharing individual’s stories though.

Hope Rawlson: Thank you guys so much for meeting with me, I really appreciate it and enjoyed talking with you all. 

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not proport to reflect the opinions or views of the Gordon Review, editorial staff, or its members.

Categories: Student Life

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