The Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP) was established in 1973 as a volunteer hotline – literally consisting of a cot next to a landline telephone – as part of the civil rights movement to combat the use of gender and sex as weapons of oppression. Rooted in these anti-oppression roots, RVAP staff spent considerable time and energy during this fiscal year working to improve the impact of our broad-reaching vision; namely, to provide support to people impacted by sexual violence.
The reality is that non-culturally specific agencies, or mainstream agencies, such as RVAP historically fail to fully reach members of our community with identities who have traditionally been oppressed. As such, there are a great many in our community who have historically been unserved, underserved, or inadequately served. This year, RVAP worked with Latinos United for Peace & Equity (LUPE) to raise our consciousness of culture and oppression, and to increase our ability to identify and respond to survivors with an anti-oppression lens.
Aligned with the Division of Student Life’s efforts to create transformational change through the development of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan, RVAP invited LUPE consultants to campus for a full week in August 2018 to work with the entire staff. Throughout the week, these consultants met with each staff member, provided training, and utilized on-site observation to assess and provide recommendations to respond to challenges in leading this diverse organization and staff to effectively implement an anti-oppression framework. RVAP experienced significant organizational trauma related to drastic state government funding cuts in August 2017. These cuts forced the organization to lay off roughly half of the staff. The week spent with LUPE consultants was very beneficial in helping staff to create space to share, feel, and heal together.
Additionally, all staff developed a working vocabulary of concepts related to culture and identity, recognized the many facets of culture and identity, and gained a better understanding of our own identities and how those impact relationships with others. Staff explored the relevance of culture and how it influences gender-based violence work. Throughout the consultation, staff were encouraged to engage in critical self-reflection on privilege and oppression, and began to develop tools to promote an intersectional approach when addressing privilege and oppression personally and within organizing spaces.
This work continued on throughout the fiscal year. As staff continues to work together to strengthen an organizational culture of trust and promote development opportunities amongst staff, the leadership team has worked to unpack the organizational trauma and interpersonal harms experienced. LUPE consultants returned to RVAP in December 2018 for a two-day intensive retreat with RVAP’s leadership team, and continues monthly consultation meetings.
This work is ongoing, and is core to all that RVAP does. Rooted in a vision of a community free from sexual violence, RVAP remains focused on dismantling oppression with the understanding that sexual violence is, at its core, about power and control. As such, wherever oppressions – imbalances of power over one individual/group by another individual/group – persist, so too will sexual violence. There is much work ahead, and RVAP is privileged to exist with the Division of Student Life – a division focused on and working towards creating an inclusive and equitable campus environment.
2019 Year In Review
This article is part of the 2019 Year in Review, which highlights some of the Division of Student Life's accomplishments from the previous academic year.