May 24, 2019
Two students take a stand against sexual and domestic violence
While students often don’t have the years of experience that seem necessary to make change, recent events including the Alberta-wide student walkout protesting changes to gay-straight alliance legislation and Quebec high school students advocating for climate change prove they’re both willing and capable of speaking up on issues that matter to them.
Our students at UCalgary are no exception.
Shannon Hawthorne: Consent Awareness and Sexual Education (CASE)
As the outgoing president of CASE and volunteer co-ordinator at the Q Centre, during her time at UCalgary, Shannon Hawthorne has leveraged her personal experience as a member of the queer community and past experiences with sexual violence to advocate for sexual education and build a culture of consent.
Earlier this year, as president of CASE she was approached by the Geology and Geophysics departments to offer consent and sexual violence-related training for this year’s spring and summer field schools alongside Carla Bertsch, the university’s sexual violence support advocate.
Though issues of sexual violence are complex and systemic problems, Hawthorne believes any student has the chance and potential to make a difference.
“At first, I was worried about being perceived as a bad ally, but everyone makes mistakes and says the wrong thing at times. It’s important to understand your privilege — I’m a cis-gender white woman. When you make a mistake, apologize and make a conscious effort to do better.”
Though her time at UCalgary is drawing to a close, Hawthorne continues to advocate for the importance of addressing sexual violence, on our campus and in the community.
“Statistically, we know sexual violence is an issue in post-secondary, so I’m excited to see UCalgary taking a leadership position and showing survivors there is support and resources available throughout Sexual Violence Awareness Month.”
Tina Guo: Students Against Domestic Abuse Association (SADAA)
During her last year of high school, Tina Guo learned that her best friend had experienced domestic abuse as a child. Guo was surprised, not only because of the horrifying situation her friend had lived through, but mostly by her resiliency — she didn’t act how many expect a survivor of domestic violence would.
“Many people have a predisposition and perception surrounding domestic abuse survivors — they believe they’re low-income, uneducated, have poor self-esteem and lack willpower,” Guo says. “It’s such a shame to perpetuate these stereotypes when stories about survivors who are striving to cope and are still excelling are going unheard.”
In 2016, Guo, now a third-year medical student in the Cumming School of Medicine, founded SADAA, a student organization dedicated to challenging misconceptions about domestic violence by sharing realistic, empowering narratives from survivors.
“Many people work in large-scale organizations, but that isn’t the only way to effect change,” she says. “As long as we can change one person’s mind about domestic abuse and dating violence, start one meaningful conversation, or empower one survivor, we’ve served my purpose.”
While Guo is hanging up her hat as an executive with SADAA, she will continue incorporating advocacy into her career as a medical practitioner.
“Regardless of where I go, I’ll continue raising awareness about how sexual violence and domestic abuse are medical issues,” she says. “Research shows that people are willing to confide in medical professionals about domestic abuse, but on average, may need to be asked more than 20 times before disclosing. By encouraging open discussions with patients and creating safe spaces, we can play an important role for survivors.”
May is Sexual Violence Awareness Month in Alberta.
If you think you have experienced sexual violence, or know someone who has, visit the Sexual Violence Support website for campus and community resources, or arrange a confidential consultation with Carla Bertsch, the university’s sexual violence support advocate, by confidential email.