Organization ‘CARES’ for Vassar students

CARES members gather during their orientation. Although training has changed since being taken off call, they are prepared to give their all. / Courtesy of Julia McInvale
Courtesy of Julie McInvale

Students might know CARES as the group of students that used to provide support over the phone to anonymous callers, but since being taken off call, the organization has been somewhat under the radar. As such, some students might not be familiar with CARES, either as the organization it used to be or the organization it is now.

As their mission statement explains, “CARES is Vassar’s organization to provide peer-to-peer support for students affected by any sort of personal violation issue, no matter where it happened, when it happened or who it happened to” (Vassar Wom- en’s Center, “Resources”).

Member Julie McInvale ’19 elaborated in an emailed statement, “CARES as a group was established in 1989 as a peer-listening group in response to growing recognition of sexual assault, both nationally and on Vassar’s campus.”

Someone was on call 24/7 to provide listening support to callers until Spring 2016, when CARES, along with The Listening Center, was taken off call in response to concerns from the administration about liability and the appropriateness of peer listening services. After CARES was taken off call, the members struggled to redefine the direction of the organization.

Member Jemison Tipler ’20, who was trained just last semester, was unable to experience CARES when it was on call. However, she stated, “What I found when I was being trained was a group of people who were passionately working to rediscover their identity as an organization after having been unexpectedly uprooted from their original purpose.”

She noted that, even though CARES is not actively using the phone, their training was centered around calls; they still put in the same amount of effort to train new members in order to remain a resource for others.

Even without their phone service intact, the members still want to find ways to reach out to survivors. As McInvale explained, “CARES remains an empathetic, non-hierarchical, peer-run support group for survivors of interpersonal violation.”

This group believes it can offer its services and remain active through other methods such as educating students or sponsoring various events taking place on campus. Instead of providing peer-to-peer support, CARES now strives to inform students about other available resources.

As McInvale explained, “Today, we seek to educate the Vassar community about resources, self-care, the Title IX reporting process and violence prevention.”

Some of these resources include Director of Vassar Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention (SAVP) Charlotte Strauss-Swanson, the Wom- en’s Center, the LGBTQ Center, the ALANA Center and more identity-based organizations on campus.

McInvale recently partnered with SAVP and the Women’s Center to create a larger coalition comprised of three anti-violence orgs. They plan to host an event with Vassar Voices for Planned Parenthood later on in the semester.

CARES also stresses self-care, and has organized trips and events that provide safe spaces for survivors. For example, participants took a trip to New Paltz to either explore the town or simply walk around with CARES members. Just recently, they also organized a nature hike at the Vassar Farm, allowing students to temporarily escape the stress of school and focus on themselves.

McInvale added that participants on these trips expressed how helpful it was to immerse themselves in nature and get off Vassar’s campus, even if just for a brief day-trip; escaping the Vassar bubble is always a nice change of pace.

Tipler explained that CARES provided an escape for her own stressful life: “It became [a community] for me because the people who chose to become a part know how to truly care for others.”

One of the aspects she appreciates most is how unselfish they are, willing to give up their time and energy to care for those who seek support. Now that they are finding their voice again, she and the other members are ready to work tirelessly to continue their role as peer listeners.

CARES remains a non-hierarchical organization, emphasizing the equality of all members and valuing all contributions, regardless of how long the members have been a part of the org. However, they are still having trouble bridging the gap between their organization and the greater student body.

In order to better reach Vassar students, CARES members will be publishing advice columns in The Miscellany News. While details of what the columns will entail are still in the works, the members are excited to become a more accessible resource and to be able to reach out to the community to provide support and education.

CARES welcomes questions from any students who have specific concerns or who simply want to learn more and hope that students will contact them at jumcinvale[a]vassar.edu.

Tipler added, “It’s this spirit of mutual support, understanding and a commitment to being people that truly listen to others that CARES members want to continue to embody in their future work.”

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