Supporting survivors: What the WGAC can, cannot do for CSU students

Victoria+Benjamin+works+in+her+office

Collegian | Sara Shaver

Victoria Benjamin works in her office in the Women and Gender Advocacy Center in the Student Services Building Dec. 5. “I also identify as a survivor, and that’s not necessary, obviously, to do this work,” Benjamin said. “But often, folks find themselves in this work coming from that background, just hoping to move forward and make a difference.”

Ivy Secrest, Life and Culture Director

Popular media often portray the college years as the best time of life. Movies and TV shows have developed high expectations that bring young students onto campuses prepared for the biggest four-year party of their lives.

Even with good intentions, traumatic incidents can derail young college students as they find their footing in higher education. At Colorado State University, this is where the Women and Gender Advocacy Center comes in to support and guide students through gender-based discrimination, abuse, harassment and assault.

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Victoria Benjamin stands by the front desk
Victoria Benjamin stands by the front desk of the Women and Gender Advocacy Center in the Student Services building Dec. 5. “We’re only able to serve students and not faculty and staff,” Benjamin said. “We can receive calls from anybody at least once, and then we’ll refer them to some of our awesome community and campus partners to get support otherwise, but we can’t do ongoing support of faculty and staff here on campus.” This limitation is due to the center being funded by student fees and because their team isn’t large enough to provide this additional support. (Collegian | Sara Shaver)

Victoria Benjamin, interim assistant director for victim services at the WGAC, works with students daily to support them and give them guidance as they combat their traumas.

“(It’s) a direct service position, supporting survivors of interpersonal violence,” Benjamin said. “We provide confidential advocacy services. And then also, this role allows me to train volunteers for our 24-hour hotline … or Victim Assistance Team.”

The WGAC’s goal is to advocate, educate and maintain a safe space for students on campus. This is so students can find resources and community as they address abuse in their lives. This pertains to sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking and topics of gender and social justice.

“In advocacy, we can support survivors by explaining the Title IX process,” Benjamin said. “As an advocate, we can’t give any sort of legal advice, but we can give legal information, and so we’re able to explain the process and then also support survivors through the process.”

Even with these support systems set up, the WGAC has limitations. They cannot give legal advice, as that can only be given by an attorney. They cannot advocate for nonstudents due to being partially funded by student fees.

This does not mean they will turn away nonstudents or those looking for legal advice. Legal guidance can be given along with an explanation of the law, and nonstudents can be offered resources and referred to organizations that are built to help them.

“We’ve had folks call in from other states,” Benjamin said. “We will do that crisis intervention in the moment and then refer them to the appropriate resource.”

The traumas of sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking or even social justice pertaining to gender can affect more than just the primary survivors. Secondary survivors, such as intimate partners, friends and family of the primary survivors can also experience trauma surrounding those topics.

The WGAC doesn’t stop their advocacy at the primary survivors.

“When we talk about ‘we support students,’ that’s a way that we do that kind of support,” Benjamin said. “We can talk to a secondary survivor about how to best support the survivor and their life and how the violence has impacted them as a support person.”

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Though there are limitations to the WGAC and advocacy, it is still a significant resource that works in tandem with the Office of Title IX Programs and Gender Equity to advocate for students.

Reach Ivy Secrest at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @IvySecrest.