Understanding begins with a battle of words

By Phillip Carwane – pcarwan@unca.edu – Contributor | April 15, 2015 |

More than a year ago, UNC Asheville students from various organizations focused on gender and LGBTQ equality, abuse, and bullying, began to discuss the idea of a common meeting place for these groups to gather.

A safe place.

Coming from campus groups like Speak Up, Feminist Collective, Alliance, and the Trans Student Union, several students including one of the founders, Jane Warstler, decided there needed to be a place to access resources for all these student groups.

“I saw a need for an office space for students to have a safe spot to access resources for their issues,” said Jane Warstler, president of SPEAK Up. “After petitioning and speaking to the leaders of Feminist Collective and other related groups, we decided that the empty Weizenblatt building could potentially serve our groups. Stacie Toropova, Felicia Blow, Weston Morris, Peyton Kennedy, Laura Haire and I met with Bill Haggard and Jill Moffitt, who told us about the space that is now the Hyannis House.”

Hyannis House is located across from Owen Hall and is open to students who have been assaulted, harassed, raped, bullied, or are in need of someone to talk to.

“It’s a place where students can come to talk,” said Wesley Stevens, a junior at UNCA. “It’s also a safe place where a student can come to relax, learn and have fun.”

Jessica Frayer, senior psychology major at UNCA and social media chair for Hyannis house, explained that while the volunteers are there to talk to people, there are also other things to do.

Hyannis House is furnished with several offices belonging to the different groups. The front room resembles the lobby of a doctor’s office, with an entire wall covered with pamphlets on sexual violence and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered issues.

Past those rooms there is a kitchen and a large living room space with comfortable furniture and shelves of books and games. Beyond that is sits an inviting patio, bathed in sunlight.

“We have a library and games and all that good stuff too,” Frayer said. “We have coffee and tea, snacks, we’ll soon have a mini-fridge, and a we’ve got a microwave.”

All volunteers are trained in Title IX and anything said at the house is not confidential. The volunteers also make it clear they are there to reassure and support, and are not actual counselors.  Whatever is said in the house gets reported to Moffitt, UNCA Title IX coordinator, who then contacts the student to talk about options.

“Volunteers undergo security training,” Stevens said. “We coordinate with campus police.”

The student is given options, from counseling with a school psychologist to more serious measures such as pressing charges or reporting to campus police if the situation warrants it.

Rachel Foster, a junior psychology, women, gender and sexuality studies student was involved in SPEAK Up and Feminist Collective when Warstler approached her last May about the idea for Hyannis house. Foster said her answer was simple.

“Yes, hell yes,” Foster said with a passion for the cause. “It’s a really great place. I definitely think every campus should have some sort of resource center related to those issues, and I wanted to be able to help people in any way I can.”

As for Frayer, her joining up was based on her support of the issues the house deals with.

“I have cared for the issues surrounding women, sexual violence, and the LGBTQ community, as well as other social justice concerns for a while,” Frayer said. “I am particularly interested in education and awareness, since it is fundamental in creating change.”

Stevens said he has his own reasons for volunteering.

“I have been through assaults and I was raised by feminists,” Stevens said. “I’m also a member of the three organizations. It’s a perfect fit for me.”

Hyannis House held a soft opening Monday, March 16. And officially opened on April 4.

Events such as Take Back the Night, an open mic night, and Kink and Consent will be co-hosted by the house with some of the associated student organizations. Also, SPEAK Up and the Hyannis House are hoping to bring in Project Unbreakable, but are unsure if it will be held at the house.

According to Project Unbreakable officials, it is an event that uses photography to help survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. It features photographs of victims holding signs with quotes from their abusers.

“It’s this really awesome, powerful event we really want to have there, but I don’t know if it would be too big of an event.” Foster said.

The house having opened in April is fortuitous timing, Foster said.

“The actual opening is set in April, which is sexual violence awareness month,” Foster said. “It just worked out that way, though it’s during the Queer Conference, and that was on purpose, to have it that week.”

Hyannis House is a place to go to talk and to seek help. All volunteers at the house say those words many times, but it is also a place to go to feel safe.

“For anyone that has been affected by sexual assault, for LGBTQ people who need somewhere to go to talk, and also for allies, the house is here to create a better community on campus,” Frayer said. “We’re here to just be here, too.”

 

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