Editor’s note: This story contains mentions of sexual assault.
Paper bag luminarias lit up The Crib at the Nebraska Union on Wednesday night with messages of support for survivors of sexual assault as part of the Shine a Light of Support event hosted by the Center for Advocacy, Response and Education.
Melissa Wilkerson, director of CARE, said the glowing messages around the room were a way for any survivors of sexual assault in the room to see the community’s support in an anonymous fashion.
Attendees walked around the room, visiting various booths for student and campus organizations to learn about available resources.
Among the booths were CARE volunteers and peer educators as well as representatives from the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska, the Panhellenic Association, the University Health Center, the Trauma Recovery Clinic and Counseling and Psychological Services.
Attendees also had the opportunity to share their stories toward the end of the event. Malia Bloemker, a CARE volunteer and junior psychology major, said she thinks it’s important to give people the opportunity to speak about their experiences.
“It can be so easy to just feel like you’re alone,” Bloemker said. “And this shows that you’re not alone.”
Emma Cavalier, a sophomore political science and sociology double major, is the chair of the ASUN Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force, which she said aims to promote available resources on campus and initiate greater change.
“I’m just making sure students know they have a place on campus,” Cavalier said. “This is a completely student-led group, where there’s no outside forces on it.”
Sophie Wyvill, vice president of risk education and well-being for UNL’s Panhellenic Association and a sophomore communication studies and English double major, said the PHA wants to show its support for survivors and let them know that their stories matter.
“My theme this year as risk educator is educating people about risks on campus, especially sexual assault,” Wyvill said. “It’s a topic that is oftentimes uncomfortable to talk about. One of my main goals is getting people comfortable with being uncomfortable and having these conversations, because they need to be had on college campuses.”
Bethany Berg, a physician’s assistant and a sexual assault nurse examiner at the health center, said the health center representatives were at the event to support Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“We are available to help take care of sexual assault survivors and offer full evidence collection and any other treatments they would need,” Berg said.
The health center offers sexual assault examiner services at no cost, according to Jess Nguyen, marketing coordinator at Nebraska Medicine.
“We want survivors to know that cost isn’t a barrier to seek the care they need,” Nguyen said in an email.
Lauren Laifer, a graduate student in the clinical psychology training program, represented the Trauma Recovery Clinic at the event. The clinic, located in Burnett Hall, is a specialty clinic in the Psychological Consultation Center that offers evidence-based treatment for trauma related disorders, according to Laifer.
“Trauma is unfortunately something that is more common than we realize,” Laifer said. “There are people available to help you work through that trauma.”
The event was the second of a series of CARE events this month in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Wilkerson said if there’s anything she wants people to know about the CARE office, it’s that they are confidential, meaning they don’t report to the university or law enforcement.
“We’re able to talk with them in a confidential manner, support them and make sure that what they want and what their priorities are, are what matters most,” Wilkerson said. “We support them in any of the decisions they make — report or not, we support them.”
Wilkerson said the CARE office can connect survivors with getting medical attention both on and off campus.
“The main thing is just putting them at the center of everything,” Wilkerson said.
Call 402-472-3553 to speak to a Center for Advocacy, Response and Education advocate during university business hours, Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. For after hours and weekend assistance, call Counseling and Psychological Services at 402-472-7450.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 at 800-799-7233. The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline, also available 24/7, can be reached by calling 800-656-4673.
In an emergency, call 911 or University Police at 402-472-2222.