Revamping Safe Space: unplugging the phone

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By Ilyena Kozain

For all seniors out there that don’t know, the number printed on the back of your ID card (if you still have your original ID, that is) routes you directly to the 24-hour confidential sexual assault hotline that is staffed by the student-run club Safe Space. Or at least it used to. Safe Space’s mission is to raise awareness of and help prevent sexual assault and violence on campus. Traditionally, the hotline service has been the focal point for our group. However, this term the decision was made to no longer maintain the hotline.

While this may seem irrational, let me assure you that a lot of thought has gone into this decision. The primary reason Safe Space has decided to remove the hotline is because it has not been utilized. We are the last, and often never employed, option for sexual assault victims. Many students are not aware of the existence of the hotline or the role of Safe Space and so they never call. However, even if a student did want to contact a peer through the Safe Space Hotline s/he would find it difficult.

This is because the Safe Space phone number on the back of upperclassmen’s ID cards did not directly connect to the student-staffed phone. Furthermore, there is not even a Safe Space number listed on underclassmen ID’s. If a student called our hotline, they would be automatically rerouted to an automated system. To actually speak to a member of Safe Space, the caller would have to request to do so.

In addition, we as Safe Space members are no longer able to be strictly confidential. As members of a club under the umbrella of Union College, we are mandated reporters of the school and would not be able to remain confidential if a case were ever to go to court. Obviously, this makes staffing a confidential hotline problematic.

The phone used to be a great resource for Safe Space; however, the culture on campus has changed since it was first implemented and we want to be able to adapt with these changes. By eliminating the phone, in no way are we eliminating our members’ responsibility and commitment to be student advocates. We are simply changing our approach so that we will be able to more positively impact the campus. Our members will still go through the same training to become knowledgeable advocates, as well as understand the steps to assist a victim. To replace the phone, we will be directing our efforts to having a stronger presence on campus. We will be hosting more educational events to raise awareness about sexual assault and violence in our community.

We will also be working more closely with the Union administration to figure out a better way to connect with student survivors.

As many of you know, one of Safe Space’s biggest events on campus takes place in the spring: Take Back the Night. It is a community march, which is put on all over the country, to rally and raise awareness about sexual assault and violence against women. The campus-wide march begins at the Nott Memorial, followed by a speakout at Old Chapel, where victims are invited to discuss their experiences in a safe space.

You can see students, teachers and faculty donning Safe Space T-shirts and tanks from previous years all over campus. The rally provides an opportunity for people who have been involved in sexual violence to voice their individual stories and is, in my opinion, one of the most moving and important events that takes place on campus every year. It’s an opportunity for the campus community to support these individuals and breach the difficult discussion of sexual assault.

This fall, for the first time ever on campus, we plan to host “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” pending funding. It is a nationally recognized march and protest to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence. This event was created based on the notion that “you don’t actually understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

This event asks men to literally walk one mile in women’s high-heeled shoes in order to encourage the male population to think about women, gender relations and sexual violence. This event is a forum that proposes an interactive way to begin a discussion. After the men have completed the mile around campus, we will invite the participants, as well as the campus community, to participate in a discussion about sexual assault, violence, consent and healthy relationships hosted by professors and Campus Safety officers. Keep your eyes peeled for advertising (if we get the funding)!

Lastly, in the wake of a recent alleged sexual assault on Foster Avenue this past weekend, Safe Space is urging students to travel safely around campus and the surrounding area. It is important for all students to be proactive: use the buddy system when walking around at night, use the trolley (518-248-5111) or a  Campus Safety escort (518-388-6911) and never leave your friends alone at a party.

Safe Space members are here to help if you need immediate help or advice, if you need a ride to the hospital or support  once you’re there, if you need advice on contacting Union’s administration or the police, or if you need help finding other resources.

I want to remind you that you are not alone — there are fellow students who are here to help and who want to help! To get in touch with a Safe Space member contact Co-Presidents Ilyena Kozain at kozaini@ union.edu and Tori Bailey at baileyt@union.edu.

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