By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
All this month, we’re focusing on how colleges and universities can become non-stigmatizing environments for survivors of intimate partner violence and other forms of abuse. Recently, there has been a lot of media attention to the issue of sexual assault on college campuses, especially how victims are often blamed and face significant barriers when they come forward to report their abuse. These news stories call attention to the significant stigma that often surrounds abuse and assault on many college campuses, and this stigma is one of the main reasons we are focusing on this topic this month.
However, there’s another important reason why we are so concerned about the climate on college campuses for survivors of abuse, and it stems from the findings of our research with survivors of past abusive relationships. One of the issues we’ve focused on learning about in our research is how people overcome past experiences of abuse and move forward into peaceful, nonviolent lives and relationships. A theme we heard from so many participants in our research was that attending and completing college was a major stepping stone for their own process of overcoming the past abuse in their lives.
Of course, we don’t want to convey that college or university studies are the only way people can overcome past abuse. Many survivors had already completed their highest levels of education before they experienced abuse. Still others find other paths to overcoming past abuse, such as by pursuing other career paths, finding support from other people in their lives, or seeking counseling--and any particular path may be the right direction for each person. College may or may not be a part of that equation.
However, there are many reasons why college and university studies can play an important role in helping survivors overcome past abuse, and many of these reasons are illustrated by quotes from participants on our research.
First, a college education can provide survivors with tools and qualifications that help them achieve financial independence and career success. For example, consider the following quotes from participants in our research:
Third, many survivors in our research noted that attending college was one part of their overall journeys to overcoming their past abuse. Examples of statements reflecting this theme are as follows:
Ultimately, there are so many possible benefits that survivors can achieve by furthering their education as part of their process of overcoming past abuse. Because of this, we believe that colleges and universities have a valuable and unique opportunity to help support survivors in achieving financial independence, career success, enhanced self-awareness, and greater knowledge about common dynamics involved in both healthy and unsafe relationships. Colleges can choose to intentionally embrace these opportunities and help foster supportive environments for survivors. In so doing, they can both serve their educational missions and help survivors and others who’ve faced traumatic events to take meaningful, life-changing steps toward safety and empowerment.