CARES is a student-run, nonjudgmental, confidential, 24/7 peer-listening service. We originally formed as a response to the increasing recognition of climates of rape, sexual and gender based violence, stalking, and relationship abuse on college campuses, including Vassar. While our focus includes all types of gender-based violence and harassment, we also consider ourselves allies of the Women’s Center, the ALANA Center, the LGBTQ Center, the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention Office (SAVP), and the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART).
In order to establish ourselves as a safe space for those affected by sexual assault, we host several campus-wide events each year dedicated to creating a community and showing support for anyone who has been affected by our issues. At CARES, we believe that absolutely no one should feel judged, silenced, or victimized and that everyone deserves to feel safe and accepted for who they are. When a person’s basic human rights are violated, they deserve an empathetic and attentive listener. That’s why we’re on call.
No matter what happened, when it happened, or who it happened to, we’re here to listen. Simply put, we provide a forum for any student to share their thoughts and be heard. Our goal is to validate callers and help them reach a conclusion about what solutions may work best for them. We don’t work magic, we aren’t trained therapists, but we are committed to giving students a voice.
In addition to being on-call, another way that we strive to create a safe, non-judgmental space on campus is through hosting the SPEAKOUT. SPEAKOUTs are forums for students to voice their experiences, thoughts, and feelings toward issues of sexual and gender-based violence. Ultimately, we hope that participating in a SPEAKOUT is an empowering experience for survivors, providing solidarity, support, and validation. We host three SPEAKOUTs a year: one in October, one in January when we accept new members, and one in April during Sexual Assault Awareness Week.
SPEAKOUTs take place in the Mug. If the Mug is a space associated with unwanted, awkward, or negative experiences, then the SPEAKOUT is an attempt to take back the Mug by creating a space where everyone feels safe and respected. To prepare for a SPEAKOUT, we arrange the chairs in a semi-circle around the “dance floor” and dim the lights (yes! the mug has lights!). In the center of the room, we put one small chair and one tall chair for people to use if they choose to share.
There is no mediator, which allows students to come up and speak if and when they feel comfortable. We encourage students to share any thoughts or experiences related to sexual and gender based violence or relationship abuse, but those who attend do not have to share. Everyone in the room, even those that choose not to speak, is a participant in the SPEAKOUT. In between speakers, there can be several minutes of silence. We think these moments of silence are especially important to a SPEAKOUT, because they give attendees a chance to reflect on what has been said, think critically about their own experiences, or go through their own process of becoming empowered in the space.
Although we would like to, we can’t guarantee that the space is confidential. We ask that attendees respect the people who choose to speak and help make sure that what is shared in the Mug, stays in the Mug. To maintain confidentiality at the SPEAKOUT, we ask that those who share their thoughts do not include any identifying information about anyone that they mention, including organizations that they are involved with, sports affiliation or house.
Most of what is shared at a SPEAKOUT is very emotional and can be triggering so at each event we make sure to have listening members of CARES available for any participants that would like to speak to someone in person. Participants are also encouraged to call CARES after the event if they have any lingering feelings or reactions about what was said.
Before leaving a SPEAKOUT we encourage everyone to participate by sharing an experience or action that makes them feel strong and empowered. In addition to sharing an “I feel strong when…” statement, we encourage participants to take time to relax following the event. Our goal at SPEAKOUT is not to overwhelm people, but to empower them and get them thinking about these issues.. We are passionate about hosting the SPEAKOUT because we believe that when people are ready to share their experience, the SPEAKOUT can be a valuable step in the healing process.
We accept applications from students that would like to join CARES at the beginning of the spring semester. Once accepted, new members go through a training semester during which the group meets for weekly training sessions led by a qualified guest speaker. We train in a variety of issues and new members practice calls with listening members. New members must complete a certain amount of practice calls before becoming “listening members” in the fall.
You can reach CARES by calling the CRC and asking for the “CARES counselor on-call” or emailing us at email@example.com.