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Community service organizations at Fort Lewis College team up to help students in crisis

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Colleges and universities nationwide are seeing an increased need for on-campus crisis services from their students.

The Phoenix Center at Fort Lewis College is partnering with the Sexual Assault Services Organization (SASO), Alternative Horizons (AH), Title IX, and both the health and counseling centers at the college.

To learn more, we talked to Molly Wieser with Title IX at Fort Lewis College; SASO Executive Director Laura Latimer; Jen Shupe, Director of Fort Lewis College Counseling; and Kate Suazo, a Case Manager.

Interview Transcription:

Sarah Flower
Molly, we're going to start with you today to break down what the Phoenix Center is, and how this all came about.

Molly Wieser, Title IX Coordinator
The Title IX office hasn't always been around, and when I started staffing the Title IX office, I noticed I was doing a lot of case management and so forth. And we did not at that time have a professional case manager on campus. And so I felt like there was a need to have, SASO or a case manager or that sort of thing on campus to support our students, because they don't just need a resolution process. They need case management. And, they don't just need counseling, they need case management. And then furthermore, we made an attempt at that time to get office space for Alternative Horizons, and for SASO and it just wasn't possible at that time. And then we did get a case manager. But then we also learned from former students, from other staff on campus, that there's a need for confidential services from off campus, really not associated with the college at all. While those exist in the community, they also need to be on campus.

Flower
That's a good transition to Laura with SASO. I know historically SASO has seen a lot of their clients be Fort Lewis College students. So let's talk about this opportunity to be up on campus and what that reach means for you and your team.

Laura Latimer, SASO
You know, we always partnered with Fort Lewis College. Outreach and programming and responding to people that needed assistance. It's really good to continue our relationship with Fort Lewis College and to be able to hold some space on campus and be meeting with students there.

Flower
And what are those hours going to look like?

Latimer
The Phoenix Center is Monday through Thursday, 12 to 2:00, and Alternative Horizons is there in the middle of the week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and SASO is there on Mondays and Thursdays. But of course, if a student or someone else needed to meet with us, we would make arrangements to meet with them outside of that time.

Flower
Kate, I want to go to you on this next one. I think it's so interesting, like, if there's a student that's experiencing some kind of struggle, and they go to Alternative Horizons, and they go down to the office, and what that might feel like to receive services out of campus. And then AH was like, boy, you should really go to SASO. And it's like, oh, but it took everything I've got just to come here. Let's talk about that experience, and what this will be like to have it be a one-stop shop located at Fort Lewis College.

Kate Suazo, Case Manager
It's really about meeting students where they're at. And so creating a space that is just based on ease of access, accessibility, and honoring like their time and their space and their ability to take more on in a really difficult time. We actually talked the other day, how, if you're with one of us, we'll get you to where you need to go. So if it's not the right fit with myself, or SASO, or Alternative Horizons, we now have a creative collaboration where we will get you to where you need to go. And we're not going to expect you to do that by yourself, we're going to walk you over there, or we're going to attend that first meeting with you or support you in getting that first meeting set up to kind of carry survivors to where they need to land.

Flower
And I'd imagine a big piece of that Kate is mental health. So enter Jen Shupe, let's go to the Counseling Center and talk about how mental health plays a role in the new Phoenix Center.

Jen Shupe, Fort Lewis Counseling Center
I think that what I love about this collaboration, and is typical of this community of support folks, we all know that what's most important is that when somebody gets the support that they need after a trauma, after an assault, that makes all the difference. It's when they don't that that can become a really difficult issue long term, right, and something that continues to impact them potentially longer than it would otherwise. And so when we're talking about mental health, the presence of somebody doing just like Kate said, helping you walk to a resource that doesn't maybe didn't fit, you know, that fits better with the first one you got to, we're just being a compassionate listener and letting folks know that they are believed, that they have support, that they can move forward with us in a community.

That is what makes a difference in mental health long term. And so we at the Counseling Center are here when people need something outside of that and more and, and we can help with that initial process as well. But that we don't have a monopoly on that, right. And, there are lots of ways and it takes all of us as a community to be able to show survivors that they have support and also work on the prevention side as well going forward.

Flower
Molly, the next one goes to you, I think of people that might be listening that are your basic community member that has no ties to Fort Lewis College, but maybe know something about domestic violence or sexual assault. Why would somebody listening on Tribal Radio or the Four Corners signal care about something like the Phoenix Center?

Wieser
The reason they would care, I think, is the reason we care. So and actually, what happened this summer is everybody read this book called "Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus", everybody in my line of work. And in the conclusion section, the key metric for those students who are assaulted is not whether they formally report what happened, it's whether they get the help, they need to process their experience, continue their studies and resume their lives as best they're able. Most students emotional support comes not from psychologists, physicians, deans or faculty members, but from friends. And then it goes on to say how that is quite a lot for friends to carry.

And so it's vital to have every kind of support as accessible as possible so that people are accessing different kinds of support, and not just relying on folks who may be co-survivors. I think if we understand how common sexual assault is, then we understand why it's vital. But given how commonly these range of behaviors occur, they're also common that when we think of what a survivor looks like, or what a victim looks like, we should think they look like a dentist, we should think they look like a radio host or a lawyer, like me, they look like a social worker, they look like a counselor, they look like everybody. So one of the things I've been emphasizing about this, that this center is for everyone, so SASO and Alternative Horizons are here for faculty and staff as well as students,

Flower
Jen, I think the the trauma that we have all experienced on a baseline this last 18 months, and then if you add any additional trauma, whether it be sexual assault or domestic violence, be like we're all just walking on thin ice, right? So you add one more thing on your shoulders, how much more easily you can sink on that?

Shupe
You know, we are in a really unique time, some ways I think, perhaps globally or as a larger society, we may find that folks are more open to hearing each other differently. Because now we do have this shared experience of this big difficulty and the fear and the anxiety that's come for a lot of people who hadn't experienced that in their lives before, maybe perhaps a little more open to understanding what somebody else has walked through at this point or have a better idea of what that feels like. So, you know, one of the things that is so great about this collaboration, is that Fort Lewis doesn't exist in a vacuum. Our students are not existing in a vacuum, not in the community and not globally, right.

And so you asked earlier like, why might this matter to people who are not connected with college? Well, because our students are part of Durango and Ignacio and the Four Corners area and beyond, right? It's not like our students are just sitting here at college and go to school and nothing else happens. We're all interconnected in this lab, and we live in this really unique community in that way and a lot of spaces, that we are rural, and so that brings us together in ways that doesn't necessarily happen in bigger areas. And I think we need to attend to that as a community and do a fair job of it, overall.

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