For Miriam MacQuarrie, being the student liaison to the Sexualized Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) is a chance to help transform the community around her.
“I think King’s presents a real opportunity.… It’s a place where, if we effect change, we can see real life results of what effective community care looks like in treating victim-survivors, and also in teaching people what sexualized violence really is in all its forms. We can see real change in a community like King’s.”
That change begins by promoting “consent culture” on campus—something Miriam considers central to her role as student liaison, working in cooperation with SVPRO officer Jordan Roberts.
“So much of this role is about education,” Miriam says. During the COVID-19 pandemic the office has suspended in-person workshops, but Miriam notes that the best solution isn’t necessarily to put everything online.
“People are tired of online resources, and we want to be attentive to the mental health of students. A lot of the time we would have held Zoom workshops or in-person workshops, and we have formulated a couple of those about things like drinking and consent culture, how to safely engage in internet sex in the time of COVID, and reproductive health….
“But also, we just rolled out a sex-positive disco playlist, and we did Halloween grab bags where you could get condoms and lube and a resource sheet and gloves and masks. We’re trying to do more physical, tangible resources for students in a time when everyone is so saturated with the internet. More than ever right now I think it’s important to see resources within the school … We’re brainstorming about how to make things connected but not physical.”
Now in her third year, Miriam is taking a combined honours degree in sociology, and gender and women’s studies. The student liaison is “a dream job” for Miriam, because she can apply knowledge from her studies to issues she feels strongly about. As someone who is actively considering careers in curriculum development for sex education, or in therapy, the role offers valuable practical experience.
“We’re trying to do more physical, tangible resources for students in a time when everyone is so saturated with the internet.”
Miriam considers the twin approaches of prevention and harm reduction—strategies frequently advocated in relation to substance abuse—to be important tools to combat sexualized violence. These strategies are guiding principles in her work as student liaison: when approaching a situation, Miriam asks herself if the course of action she is considering has the potential to prevent sexualized violence, or to reduce its consequences.
“Prevention is about education; it’s about equipping people with the awareness to keep people safe, and to recognize sexualized violence. For example, in the case of substance abuse: [explaining] what these drugs are, and where they are coming from. What are their harms? That’s prevention, that’s giving reasons to avoid it, or equipping people with the ways to avoid it.
“Harm reduction … is about recognizing the prevalence of things like substance abuse and sexualized violence in society … and then lowering the harms that [these issues] cause in the most understanding and humanistic way possible.”
Another thing informing Miriam’s work in this role is something she learned from her supervisor Jordan: “tend and befriend.” The words’ positive connotations belie a darker meaning. In the context of victim-survivor centered therapy and trauma, Miriam explains that “tend and befriend” is the adoption of appeasing behavior in response to a threat; it is “theorized to be a (mostly) female response to a threat under stress.”
“I think that’s something super-interesting and helpful to zero in on, because it widens our understanding of the ways people react in a threatening or a … traumatic situation … How does that play into a victim-survivor’s understanding of sexualized violence and of themselves?”
Underpinning insights like these and the practical experience Miriam is gaining, is the feeling that she is contributing to meaningful change in her community.
“We’re all moving towards it, even if we’re contributing something small … people are waking up and I think this taboo is disappearing. I’m so happy to be part of a reckoning … a waking up to the prevalence of [sexualized violence] and its importance.”