For the past twenty days we have all been party to Women’s History Month. Starting as only a day in 1909, Women’s History Month was declared an annual event in 1987 and slated to take place every March. This year has been an eventful one as women around the world have brought forth calls to end sexual assault, harassment and the general sexualization of women. On Hope College’s campus, STEP, or Students Teaching and Empowering Peers, aims to “educate and inform other students about forms of interpersonal violence (i.e. sexual assault, violence in relationships, harassment and stalking), empower those impacted by interpersonal violence to seek resources and support and encourage members of the campus to be active bystanders,” according to the group’s homepage. The Anchor sat down with Corri Zimmerman (she/her) (’23), current member and former Community Outreach Leader of STEP.
This month there has been a wave of protests after the death of Sarah Everard in the United Kingdom. Everard, an English marketing executive, disappeared while on her way home. According to Today News, her remains were found a week later fifty miles away from her last known location and a London Metro policeman was charged with her kidnapping and murder. In the wake of Everard’s death, thousands of people have been prompted to share their experiences of assault and harassment. These stories all serve to show that sexual assault and harassment can occur no matter a person’s clothes, sobriety, gender, age, sexual orientation, location or level of security. Everard’s case has proven that it doesn’t matter how much women protect themselves; crimes can still be committed against them. Zimmerman explained, “Sarah Everard did everything right. She did everything she was told to do and yet this horrible thing still happened to her. I think that this has opened people’s eyes to the reality of what it is like to be a woman, to have to fear for your safety walking down your own street, in your own home, around family and friends, around trusted figures in your community and at any and all times of the day. I think it has also made people realize that it should not be this way. It should not be the responsibility of someone to make sure something does not happen to them. It should be the responsibility of someone to make sure they are not doing things that they should not be.”
As a demographically female-leaning college, Hope is a part of this conversation around women and their safety, and STEP is a group taking an active role. Zimmerman stated, “Being a part of STEP means actively making a difference and changing the acceptance of interpersonal violence against all groups on campus and beyond. STEP empowers survivors and encourages them to heal, in whatever way that looks like to them. It means making meaningful change.” Hope, and Holland, Michigan as a whole, is a relatively safe place to live. But Zimmerman commented, “I think that there should be more street lights. I am aware that we have the blue light buttons, but I think people would feel better if the places they were walking were more well-lit.” As another step Hope could take to make students feel safer, Zimmerman added, “It would be nice to have Campus Safety officers at events for different organizations, just so that everyone can be more comfortable with them.”
Hope is also a demographically white-leaning campus, making the safety of women of color that much more important. Zimmerman explained, “Hope is becoming a safer place for women of color. If we were to break it down in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, there is still more work to go. Diversity is about numbers and representation; how many women of color do you have? Hope does have a fair amount of women of color students, but I think that this is where Hope is stuck. Equity is about being treated fairly, and I think that in terms of resources for students of color outside of the CDI, there is not equity. There is a disconnect for some students of color inside of the classroom that I do not think is talked about nearly enough. As for inclusion, I think that Hope also struggles with this piece, because there is a fine line between amplifying voices of color and tokenizing them.” Representation is important on all levels of an institution. In the realm of faculty representation, Hope still has a ways to go, stated Zimmerman. “Representation is important to a community and is even more important to students,”’ Zimmerman said. “Representation matters. I would like to have more women professors, more professors that are people of color, and more professors that are women of color, along with professors of diverse opinions and ideologies. I think that if we truly wish to take diversity, equity and inclusion seriously, these things need to happen.”
Zimmerman concluded her statements by saying, “Women on Hope’s campus bring strong contributions. This Women’s History Month it is important to remember that all women are valuable and deserve to walk around and live their lives safely. No matter who a woman is, what she’s doing or what she’s wearing. Whether she be a freshman at a greek life party, a trans woman going to class or a woman of color studying in Bultman, she deserves to feel safe and to have her voice amplified.” For more information on STEP, the work they do, how to join or how to report an incident, go to hope.edu/offices/title-ix/prevention-education/step.html. Hope, in accordance with Title IX, also has resources available for those affected by sexual and domestic violence. If you need to report an incident or would like information about safety on campus, resources can be found at hope.edu/offices/title-ix.