The unsung heroes of the Aurora Center – The Wake
“Most of the time, this provides them with some degree of emotional support or gives them a space to process,” said Bronte Stewart-New, Aurora’s legal defense coordinator.
Stewart-New’s position encompasses a variety of different roles. She coordinates the advocacy series, provides crisis support, helps clients assess their options, responds to a 24-hour helpline * and co-facilitates victim and survivor support groups. And yet, despite this multitude of responsibilities, “I’m still waiting for tables,” Stewart-New noted. “I like to interact with people.”
In this line of work, a knack for communicating seems to be integral. Enter: Katie Eichele. Passionate and caring, Eichele is currently Director of the Aurora Center, which means she is a driving force behind day-to-day and long-term operations by making policy, engaging in strategic planning, managing the budget and pleading. for victim-survivors at all institutional levels. While Eichele’s role is all-encompassing and complicated, his purpose is clear. “If I don’t get up,” she explained, “they win”.
Since starting this high-level role in 2012, Eichele has left her mark on Aurora, combining her background in communication and student leadership with her deep understanding of social justice and the politics of advocating for victim-survivors with a full institutional support.
“When I stepped into the role […] Aurora was known for her very good job, ”she said. While the current general support and influence of the Aurora Center may seem effortless, she went on to explain, “But the offices didn’t like working with us. We were controversial.
Indeed, the Aurora Center was born out of a controversy: in 1986, the alleged sexual assault of an 18-year-old woman by three Gopher basketball players prompted then-president Ken Keller to create a center dedicated to wrestling. against sexual violence. Since then, with more than $ 1 million in federal grants from the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women and increased institutional funding, Aurora has been able to significantly expand its services and reach.
Yet impressive growth required more than money. Early on, Eichele identified campus reluctance to collaborate with Aurora as an issue to be resolved.
“I basically went around [to all the partner offices] very humbly. And I got yelled at a lot, even though I was brand new, ”Eichele recalls. “But I would say to them: with me here, we will collaborate. With me here we will listen to each other. With me here we are not going to shame each other, but inspire each other to do our best. She leaned forward and lowered her voice, “And that changed everything.”
Today, Aurora’s main mission includes four main pillars: direct services, education, inter-ministerial collaboration and development opportunities. Of these four, the center is best known for the broad scope of direct services it provides to victim-survivors. These services include counseling, academic support, medical support, housing, law enforcement assistance and legal support.
According to Eichele, clients most often seek advice and support in a crisis. “We call it facing and hoping,” she explained. “Give them hope that they are not alone, that they have options. Sometimes it’s as easy as sending a letter to a professor.
As co-facilitator of Aurora’s weekly support groups, Stewart-New understands the importance of providing spaces that validate victim-survivors. “Sexual assault can be very isolating, especially when people work in systems where they face disbelief,” said Stewart-New. “Support groups are a truly unique space where people can come together and build some solidarity with other people who have had a similar experience.”
As members come together because of trauma, they connect through community healing and support. “It’s really my favorite part of the week,” said Stewart-New. “It’s so stimulating.”
Yet responding to the crisis is only one of Aurora’s four pillars. “Advocacy response and prevention go hand in hand,” said Paul Ang, Aurora’s prevention program coordinator.
A proactive approach
Ang, alongside the centre’s Men’s Engagement Coordinator Malik Mitchell, works to create, define and implement Aurora’s violence prevention education. Currently, the series offered by Aurora is called “The Power of Respect” and can be requested by student groups, academic offices and other entities on campus.
Although Ang has worked for over 10 years to prevent the genre, his decision to approach this line of work was somewhat unexpected. “Growing up, I didn’t really have a lot of conversations about gender-based violence or consent,” he explained. After joining a masculinity dialogue group, however, Ang realized his own personal interest in addressing gender-based violence.
And with Aurora’s Power of Respect program, her goals are clear. “We are trying to create a community that not only supports survivors, but also does not tolerate the underlying overt and implicit behaviors that all make up the broader spectrum of gender-based violence,” Ang said. The workshops are facilitated by the staff and another integral part of the structure of the Aurora Center: the student volunteers.
Students are stepping up
Violence Prevention Educators are one of Aurora’s three volunteer positions, alongside Direct Service Advocates and Special Project Volunteers. Similar to Direct Service Consultants, who work on Aurora’s 24-hour hotline, EVPs are required to complete 40-hour certification training offered at the start of each spring.
“It was pretty intensive training,” said Sam Wheeler, a second year student volunteering as a violence prevention educator, “but I learned a lot and met a wide variety of people from all over the world. all these different disciplines and identities.
Now, Wheeler facilitates at least five presentations per semester to groups across campus. “The emphasis is on open discussion and not on shaming others,” she explained.
After hearing about the Aurora Center and wanting to learn more about preventing sexual assault, Wheeler applied to volunteer in October of her freshman year.
“As a woman in STEM, I thought I could probably bring something to the table,” Wheeler said. “I love being part of a place that strives to do [University] a better place. “
Students at the university seem interested in bringing their own experiences to the center. “My primary focus is on seminars for new fellowship members,” said Carter Ridel, a second-year violence prevention teacher. “It’s a culture I’m in too, so being able to bridge the gap is something I try to focus on.”
And in the process of educating others, Ridel recognized that his own perception had changed as well. “Obviously, as a white cis member, I don’t have the same experiences that a lot of the people I work with,” he said. “One of the really important things that I have achieved is being able to recognize my own biases.”
Give and recover
This sense of personal growth is a common thread through the experiences of Aurora staff members and student volunteers.
Stewart-New worked with the Aurora Center for a total of six years – one staff member for two and one volunteer for four. “I was a transfer student so I never really felt like a college student,” she said. “The Aurora Center was really where I found a sense of community.”
And this strong community, like any other, is built by its members. Yet, reflecting on the impact she had on the Aurora Center, Stewart-New seemed taken aback. “It’s a big deal,” she laughs, “my coworkers say I bring a lot of humor to the office. I don’t know if I agree with this.