Residential advisors gather to help students move into the dorms.

Help for student survivors of sexual violence might be right down the hall

It’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and I’ve been reporting on it like nobody’s business. In just the past two weeks, I wrote stories about a demonstration which aimed to bring awareness to assault on campus, DePaul’s version of the worldwide protest, “Take Back the Night,” and the perceived shortcomings of DePaul’s own Title IX office.

Reporting on this topic has been heartbreaking. But while listening to everyone’s stories, I found an unexpected upside—a small pocket of college life which actually seems to be making a difference: resident advisors, more commonly called RAs.

I know what you may be thinking. My RA last year at the University of Iowa, before I transferred to DePaul, was a big joke. She never called anyone on their poor behavior, and hardly ever stepped in when students were being bullied or discriminated against by other students.

But at DePaul, it seems that’s not the case.

Residential advisors gather to help students move into the dorms.
Residential advisors gather to help students move into the dorms. Elmira College | Flickr

I spoke with an RA named Joel Luciano. He’s a junior here at DePaul, and a second-year RA.

“I loved being an RA,” he said. “It taught me a lot both socially and academically. To have such an impact and influence in the lives of the youth is truly indescribable and one of my favorite aspects of the role.”

In day-to-day life, Luciano explained that the best part of being an RA was bringing his floor together into a community. He said that through the events he created for them, he got to watch them prosper and grow together.

But that was just the beginning of his impact on students. If a student is sexually assaulted in the dorms, RAs like Joel are the Residential Education and Title IX’s first line of defense.

“Before school starts all the RA’s undergo a 2 week long training where we cover protocol and policy,” he said. “We also have this thing called BCD (Behind Closed Doors) where we go through scenarios and potentially real situations and work through them. The violence prevention aspect of the training is probably a day or two plus whatever we do in BCD.”

He added that while nothing can truly prepare you for sexual violence, he felt well equipped to do his best in case a scenario like those he practiced took place on his floor.

While Luciano has yet to counter sexual assault on his floor, he said he makes sure to let students know that if it did, he would be a readily available resource for them.

Some students who lived in the dorms explained that their RAs made the same promises.

“Definitely on my floor— with my RAs—it was like a safe space,” said Kylie Travers, a sophomore at DePaul. “We had meetings every month, and our RAs made sure to let us know they were here for us.”

So what does this have to do with Chicago? Or enacting change? Sure, a couple good RAs might make your freshman experience better than someone else’s—but what about long term?

The openness that DePaul’s RAs encourage could help survivors out long term. Learning how to talk openly with a group of near-strangers, sometimes as often as multiple times a month, strips sexual violence of its taboo. Having these conversations could encourage students to challenge institutions that are not doing enough for victims.

When you report a sexual assault in Chicago, the chances of being heard are slim. The Tribune reported in December that in 2017, the clearance rate for rape cases fell to 32 percent— the lowest point since at least the 1960s.

For victims, knowing that there are other people who hear you and care might help to make that change.

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