New peer-led relationship violence support group offered at Saint Michael’s College
Last year, Jenna Walker ’24, found herself in unchartered territory when she needed support from the Title IX office at Saint Michael’s College.
Her experience was positive, but it was missing one thing: a peer to offer her support. Now, Walker is working to provide that missing link for students who may be navigating the Title IX process in the future.
Title IX is a federal law that along with two other pieces of legislation— the Clery Act and the Violence Against Woman Act— ensures that people are protected against sexual violence in all forms. St. Mike’s has a dedicated Title IX Coordinator on campus, Catherine Welch, who is also the Associate Dean of Student Success. The Title IX Office is available to students who are looking to access supportive measures, such as meeting with a mental health clinician or needing academic accommodations. Students are not required to file a formal report or go through a formal investigation or information resolution process after meeting with Welch.
Walker said she was pleasantly surprised by how many resources were available to her during the Title IX process, which included support from both Welch and the Bergeron Wellness Center’s Be Well staff as well as Detective Jeff Fontaine and Heidi St. Peter, who is the Director of Purposeful Learning. But, she would have liked to have a peer who understood even more fully what she was experiencing.
Walker is now planning to be that supportive peer for others. She is offering a relationship violence peer support group, which will be ongoing. The support group will focus on relationship violence—physical or verbal— in relationships that are both romantic and platonic.
“Wanting that person and now being able to be that person for someone else is my goal,” said Walker. Walker said she wants the support group to give people a safe place to use in any way they need. Some might come “color and be around other people because you feel isolated” while others might “want to talk about what [they] went through and be validated or hear someone else’s story.”
“Jenna is a true advocate for this topic and for the support of these students. I hope students will take advantage of that,” said Bridgette Akins, Coordinator of Wellness Outreach and Education for the Bergeron Wellness Center.
Walker, herself, is a Student Wellness Ambassador through Bergeron, a student employee and peer mentor of Purposeful Learning, and this past summer, she was a leader for pre-orientation weekend. She is a double-major in Education Studies and Sociology and a Colchester native.
Akins said last year was the first year Be Well had Student Wellness Ambassadors, and that number has increased from two to six this year. All of the Student Wellness Ambassadors are now working to complete a certified peer educator course that Be Well is coordinating.
Walker said she hopes inviting students to talk to each other about relationship violence will bring more awareness to the entire campus community and create a safe place for students to help other students.
“There’s a lot of knowledge and wisdom that students have that we want to let them share with the campus,” said Akins.
Walker said using her experience to spawn change is driven by her father’s advice that, “Everything is either a good experience or a learning experience.” Walker said this helps her, “reframe my perspective into ‘this is going to either be really awesome or I’m going to learn something new about myself that will further my future.’”
The first support group will take place on Sept. 28 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Center for Women and Gender (CWG), next to the food pantry. Upcoming groups are planned for Oct. 26, Nov. 16 and Nov. 30 in the same location. Walker is also holding office hours for one-on-one support that she said can take place in any location, including on Zoom.
If you have an idea or passion close to your heart that you think could serve the campus community, or if you would like to partner with Walker to lead the violence support group, please reach out to Bridgette Akins at email@example.com
“Wanting that person and now being able to be that person for someone else is my goal."