By Mallory Richards
Much of my past three years at Kenyon College has been dedicated to functioning as a peer supporter for those impacted by sexual violence. I applied to the SMA program in the spring of 2016 having witnessed the invaluable effect that support and a listening ear can have on those affected by sexual misconduct. On a college campus where sexual assault does not exist in a vacuum, I knew that the SMAs had the power to change not only individual experiences, but also collective experiences. As SMAs, we spent countless hours working with individuals, responding to those who reached out through the hotline, and finding ways to make support accessible to students. The change of the program’s mission from peer support to peer education in conjunction with the loss of confidentiality, our hotline phone, and confidential support groups made functioning under the umbrella of the Cox Center counterproductive to the purpose we originally set out to serve. In response, a group of former SMAs has formed the Sexual Respect Peer Alliance, an organization dedicated to providing training-informed peer support to anyone impacted by sexual violence.
The SMA program has been a steadfast resource on this campus since its inception more than 25 years ago, and therefore its discontinuation precipitates both sadness and questions as to the future of peer support on Kenyon’s campus. Ultimately, the goal of SRPA is to provide the same capacity of support to the student body as the SMA program, but our path forward is distinctly separate. We have a Facebook page, Instagram, and email account (listed at the bottom of the article) so that students seeking support and information can reach out and we can reach back. As part of our prior trainings as SMAs, we have gained fluency in the Title IX process and student resources, which will carry over into our new role.
Our creation of the Sexual Respect Peer Alliance is not meant to be an act of student rebellion, merely a reassertion that we are here for students in a way that will not be restricted by administrative policies. We, the SRPAs, are committed to filling a necessary void in support for those impacted by sexual misconduct, the core doctrine we have remained committed to despite myriad hurdles and changes. Our intention is not to create rifts between students and the administration, it is just to serve those who seek support. We want to move forward in conjunction with students and administrators, focusing on the rise of SRPA as its own independent program rather than the demise of the SMA program.
We refuse to be passive in our role as supporters on this campus, hence our disaffiliation with the Cox Center and creation of SRPA, a shift that will allow us to actively engage in dialogue concerning consent and hookup culture with those who so desire. Recent events, including Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in early October, triggered a resurgence of need for support, which we strive to provide. Our inaccessibility under the restricted SMA program meant that we were unable to reach or be reached by those who needed support and strength. With the advent of SRPA and our introduction to the student body, we hope that we are able to provide much-needed services in the wake of this collective trauma and for the campus at all times moving forward.
A closing message: you are not alone. These changes are meant to increase the visibility and effectiveness with which we provide student support on Kenyon’s campus. We are, and always have been, here for you.