Student Life

Voices of Gordon Leaders Speak on New Club, Survivor Advocacy, and Purity Culture

 Content Warning: Sexual Assault 

 The student organization Voices of Gordon aims “To empower Gordon College students to share their stories of sexual assault and feel less alone while in pursuit of positive change as well as educate the student body about the reality of sexual assault in our community and world. ” 

I interviewed president Rebekah Johnson and Vice President Aria Hall to learn more about how Voices of Gordon works to advocate for sexual assault survivors. 

Q: How does the council execute the club’s mission statement on campus? 

Johnson: Because we are a new club, we just hosted our first event in October right before Halloween. This first event was an education and outreach event, where it was open to the campus community…we shared statistics of sexual assault, as well as resources, population specific, but also specific to everyone who could be a victim or is an ally of sexual assault survivors. Our goal for that event was to teach people about the reality of what is around them, provide resources to become an ally if you don’t know how, and how to support your friends or family members who may be victims, as well as who to reach out to if you are a victim yourself.  

Hall: Another thing is the Voices of Gordon Instagram, where people can post their anonymous stories. We put a trigger warning so people don’t have to read it unless they want to, but for the people who choose to read it, it provides a sense of “Hey, there’s other people on this campus who have experienced the same thing,” and there’s community and strength in those numbers. Even if someone chooses not to read it, they know those people exist. The Instagram is a big part of the community aspect. We want to start up a community for survivors only, so we can have events that are community and healing focused.  

Q: What are VOG’s goals in pursuing justice?  

Hall: We do a lot of work to bring justice through education. We seek justice through educating people on what is consent, on what is a real “yes.” We focus on the education part of it because people generally don’t know anything around consent, because Gordon doesn’t talk about sex at all. So our goal is to deepen the understanding and language around consent and sexual violence on campus because I think in a purity centered school, people just don’t know the language around consent. We seek justice by not letting people live under a rock. 

Johnson: We also aim to help people reclaim justice for their own autonomy, in learning what consent is for themselves, and how to keep themselves safe. But also reclaiming justice through owning their own story and healing journey in that nature. We hope to seek justice for their autonomy, even when they might not know that they need that as well.  

Q: How is VOG working to bring change to the campus and provide a safe environment for survivors? 

Hall: In terms of bringing change, a big focus of our events is having the conversation out there. We are in a very purity focused world, but it completely diverts the attention from how prevalent sexual assault is in so many people’s lives. Starting the change is starting the conversation. People may see sexual violence on a poster and think “oh I didn’t think that was something we talked about here.” Just opening up the conversation is a change.  

Johnson: On the side of survivors, I think just as taboo as it is to talk about sex, it’s equally as, if not more, taboo to talk about sexual assault, especially in a climate like this. We are actively working to make sure that our organization as a whole is a resource or a connection for survivors to reach out to when they aren’t sure where to go next, don’t know where to start, or if they aren’t even sure if they are a victim yet.  There’s a lot of different stages of that journey, and our goal is to establish ourselves as a safe space to come to. Part of that will come with time as we become more established, and with the survivor-only small groups. Our Instagram DMs are always open for people to reach out to. We are here to be a listening ear and a helping hand. Not to be counselors but to help people find the next steps because people don’t really know where to go.  

Q: Do you feel like Gordon has handled the issue of sexual assault on campus well? 

Hall: I’ve heard different opinions from different survivors on campus. Some people have said that Title IX was excellent and they got help immediately. Then I know people who have been turned down and turned down and turned down, being told “you don’t have enough evidence” when they clearly did. So, I think Gordon could stand to be less black and white about it. Sexual harassment isn’t always going to be this violent thing, it’s going to be a lot more subtle. It could be done by a person who has a position of power on campus, or someone who works here, or has a good reputation on campus.  Gordon could stand to be more accepting of the fact that this is not some crazy violent, out of nowhere thing. It could be the person right next to you who you think you know really well. It’s a mix, but it’s not going to be black and white. That is why survivors deserve to be taken at their word.  

Johnson: Something I’ve learned through this process is that it’s not fair to say that Title IX is the problem. It’s not necessarily us against the college, it’s us taking it upon ourselves to teach Gordon that this is an incredibly nuanced issue. Like Aria said, Gordon could definitely stand to not be as black and white about things. Whether or not it’s Title IX that’s always the problem, whether it’s the people that are running it, or whether it’s the college as a whole, it doesn’t really matter. The fact of the matter is that it’s time that we all acknowledge together that this is a nuanced problem, and it’s not us against each other, it’s us against the problem. 

Q: Do you feel that Gordon provides good resources that sexual assault survivors can utilize? 

Hall: The counseling center has a trauma informed therapy group that they run for sexual assault survivors. The counseling center in the past had someone come in from the North Shore YWCA, and she gave us a whole training on terms, which we were actually able to use in our presentation at our event. The Title IX team works very hard and the Center for Health and Wellness has excellent counselors. The place where I tend to see not enough support is the culture around talking about it.  

Johnson: It’s the communication that’s lacking, not the resources. It’s not that there is a lack of resources, it’s that there is a lack of a broader understanding that this is real, and that people need these resources. We do have them and people know that they exist, but there’s a lack of comfortability in seeking the resources. There is not a good culture of support in seeking those resources.  

Q: As Christians, what do you think Christians can do better in supporting sexual assault survivors? 

Johnson: For me personally, I think that the biggest problem is victim blaming, and the extremely judgmental attitude towards victims of any kind. Along with that comes a lot of stereotypes around sexual assault victims. So, I think as a Christian community, something that we can do better is educating ourselves on what sexual assault is and how it happens even further than “she was dressed like she wanted it” or “he always wanted it.” That’s what the narrative is, and that’s what we have been hearing our entire lives. I think it is things like that mindset that just perpetuate the cycle of ignorance and miseducation. The first step in making any change is educating ourselves and educating other people, because sexual assault happens no matter why you think it happens. Your opinion doesn’t really matter when people are getting hurt every single day.  

Hall: I really challenge Christians to take themselves outside of the box that is purity culture. You can believe whatever you want about sex and that’s fine. But let yourself outside the box and acknowledge what’s really going on, besides just that idea. When I’ve talked about what Bekah and I do in some of our circles from home, people don’t really know what to say, or don’t even want to acknowledge what I’m saying, they just go silent. Because if they acknowledge that sexual assault happens, then we have to acknowledge that sex is in the picture. People don’t want to go there. But by being so boxed in, you’re actually erasing a whole group of people who are suffering and who are in painful silence. Another thing I encourage Christians to acknowledge is that sexual assault is not just violent and forceful. It is coercion. It is your confidence being broken down over time. It is often manipulation. The way purity culture teaches us about sex and sexuality is that you can be conviced into something and it’s consensual. But that’s not a yes. It’s not always a forceful, violent thing that happens on the streets. It can be manipulation and that’s just as painful and valid. 

Johnson: I’ve always thought that you can’t compare choosing not to have sex until you’re married to being sexually assaulted or manipulated. That’s another huge problem that is seen in the church and you see at Gordon. Sexual assault has the word sex in it, so it’s immediately associated with impurity, and that is so dangerous and harmful. They are apples and oranges, you can’t compare the two.  

Q: Is there anything you would like to say to a survivor who may be reading this? 

Johnson: Our mission has been, and always will be, that we see you no matter where you come from, and we love you no matter where you’re at now, and we are here for you always. If you don’t know where you stand with this, we are here for that too. Feel free to reach out to us, our Instagram Dms are always open. We are here for you always and you are always seen, even if you don’t know how to see yourself yet. 

Hall: For survivors who are working through feelings and figuring out what happened to you, trust your gut. If you feel like something was wrong, or you feel off about it, God gives us intuition so we can know if something is wrong. Trust your gut and don’t let anyone take that truth from you. We are here to be a home and community and a place for you to feel safe and loved.   

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