Whitman Welcomes a New Sexual Assault Victims Advocate

Eleanor Matson, Staff Reporter

Hailey Powers, Whitman’s new Sexual Assault Victims Advocate, will begin work on campus this week. Employed by the local YWCA, a sexual assault and domestic violence response organization with a branch in Walla Walla, she will remain independent from Whitman College, even though her office will be located in Hunter Conservatory on campus.

The Whitman administration made the decision last year to create a specific job for the Sexual Assault Victims Advocate. As of last year, Associate Dean of Students Barbara Maxwell held the position of Sexual Assault Victims Advocate, but due to the conflict between this job and her role as Greek Life Advisor amongst other roles Maxwell fulfills, the administration thought it best to separate the role of the Sexual Assault Victims Advocate.

“Even if you put that role with someone else at the college, there is still that potential conflict of interest,” Dean of students Chuck Cleveland explained as to why the new position will not be employed by the college. “We were looking for an alternative, we were looking for something separate from the college. [The YWCA] has a long standing reputation with working with sexual violence, with victims’ advocacy…and they are independent from the college.”

The relationship between Whitman and the YWCA will be much like the relationship between Spokane’s Gonzaga University and its local YWCA. The YWCA in Spokane employs Gonzaga University’s Sexual Assault Victims Advocate. Gonzaga’s Sexual Assault Victims Advocate quickly became the model that Whitman and the YWCA decided to use when creating this job.

Based on that model, Powers will be on campus 20 hours a week, and within the greater Walla Walla community for another 20. However, the director of the YWCA, Anne-Marie Schwerin, assured that this schedule is flexible.

“If she needs to be here for 40 hours a week then that’s just the way it is,” Schwein said.

Powers’ job will be “to walk alongside and provide support, not to judge, decide or tell people what to do,” Shwerin defined. The new advocate is “here to support victims and survivors on their journey and our approach is that it is all about self-determination.”

Another benefit that the YWCA will provide is a stricter confidentiality between the advocate and the victim. The previous Victims Advocate’s confidentiality was granted by Whitman, but if it was questioned in a court of law their confidentiality would not stand up due to the Clery Act. The Clery Act requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid keep a record of all crimes committed on campus, including incidents of sexual assault. Schwerin emphasized that this would not be the case with the YWCA.

“The YWCA’s advocates are not mandated Clery reporters so anything a student says in her or his meeting with an advocate, that is so confidential, so private—[they] can’t say a word to anybody without written consent,” Schwerin said.

The decision to hire a new Sexual Assault Victims Advocate was reinforced by the demands and protest of the Vigilante Feminist group last April. Both the administration and Vigilante Feminists have been working throughout the summer to discuss issues of sexual assault on campus. According to both Cleveland and senior Maia Watkins, one of the members of the Vigilante Feminists, the meetings they had were very productive, yet they both believed that the conversations need to continue and must include more of the campus.

Many around campus were pleasantly surprised by the administration’s decision.

“The decision is a huge change we really didn’t expect…that for me is huge that they not only listened to us but did something outside of the box…working with a resource [the YWCA] that is very knowledgeable in the community,” Watkins said.

Powers recently finished a graduate program at the University of Chicago where her thesis focused on the issues of campus sexual assault. Before that she received her undergraduate degree from the University of Montana-Missoula where her senior thesis focused on a sexual assault incident that happened there while she was a student.

Powers will likely begin this week with tentative office hours and scheduled appointments. In the meantime, anyone in need of help should call the YWCA.

“I’m really looking forward to making a change,” Powers said. “The effect we have here goes beyond the campus.”