Program Director Rowan Frost talks fall changes
Picture this: You’re at a Student Union ball dressed in your shiniest outfit and highest heels, ready to dance the night away. While you’re showing off your sick moves to your friends, you feel that familiar feeling in your gut. You’re about to lose your lunch. You rush outside, looking for somewhere to do so in the safest and least gross way possible. But as you lean face-first into the bushes, someone suddenly asks if you need help. You turn around to face them: those friendly strangers with neon-yellow vests and backpacks full of water and snacks, practically the nectar and ambrosia of drunken college students.
During a typical school year, the Night Owls — the aforementioned strangers in Day-Glo safety garb — would be a regular sight, patrolling around campus on weekends to offer help to students. But with new protocol and expectations surrounding COVID-19, they’re unable to function as they have in the past. Instead, Night Owls are undergoing what Sexual Health, Advocacy, and Relationship Education (SHARE) program director Rowan Frost refers to as a “pivot.”
Instead of their typical community engagement, Frost wants to shift their role in the community to that of COVID educators. Frost emphasizes that their role wouldn’t be punitive: “They’re not the COVID police, but they would be able to have conversations with people who were repeatedly in violation of the rules, either through observation or referral, and they would be qualified to have deep conversations with folks kind of figuring out, ‘Okay, so what’s going on?’”
The new role would see Night Owls engaging in conversations with students repeatedly in violation of COVID regulations and identifying the reason for those violations. One student might lack adequate social support, causing them to repeatedly see their friends in an unsafe way; another might have trauma or sensory processing issues that make it difficult for them to wear a face mask; some students might simply think COVID is a hoax and refuse to comply. Regardless of the reason, Frost hopes the Night Owls can speak with students and figure out a solution to prevent any further violations and disciplinary action.
“We’re going to deal with people in each of those situations really differently,” Frost said. “So we need to be prepared to have a conversation that is about understanding people’s feelings and needs… and also asking what we can do to support behavior change so that they don’t become involved with the disciplinary process, because that’s the last thing anybody wants is for someone to lose their housing or lose their status at Reed because of a COVID violation.”
The Night Owls aren’t the only aspect of SHARE that’s had to adjust to new protocol surrounding COVID. The widespread shift to online operations has raised unique challenges for advocacy groups all over the country. Much of SHARE’s work is based on a very personal, one-on-one relationship with survivors, and confidentiality is of utmost importance in this relationship.
“It’s really one thing to have a conversation with someone in your office with the door shut and a noise machine going so that people can’t overhear and having a conversation with someone who’s in a room and you don’t know who else might be present,” Frost said.
The use of Zoom as the de facto meeting platform of choice also presents challenges regarding confidentiality, as account administrators can view information about meetings that could potentially be sensitive to those participating. To get around this problem, SHARE created its own standalone Zoom account not affiliated with the college, and each advocate has their own sub-account with which they’re able to schedule meetings with survivors and keep their information confidential.
Support groups which would typically be in person are also being held online this semester. Frost recognizes that the last thing anyone wants to do after a long day of classes on Zoom is to log onto Zoom again to talk about difficult topics. However, she emphasized that making connections with others who have undergone similar experiences is imperative to a survivor’s recovery, so support groups will be available in an online format.
The shift to online learning has also presented challenges in recruiting new advocates. In a typical year, SHARE would hire a new group of anywhere from eight to ten advocates, and Frost would lead a 50 hour in-house advocate training for new hires. However, Frost recognizes that going through advocacy training is “really emotionally intense” and does not want to add that to the ever-growing list of adjustments students have to make when returning to campus. Consequently, SHARE has fewer staff than usual this semester, with six advocates not including Frost. Despite the small staff, Frost emphasizes that this doesn’t impede their ability to provide services to students.
“We’re still able to provide a lot of services,” Frost said. “It’s not that we’re understaffed, it’s just we have fewer than usual.”
Much of Frost’s personal work this semester concerns making information about SHARE more accessible to students. SHARE hosted a series of sexual health talks with an off-campus presenter over Zoom in September, and Frost now aims to upload recordings of those talks to the SHARE website as a resource for students who did not attend the September meetings. She also wants to create a series of short videos informing students about sexual health resources available to them on campus. She recognizes that attending a workshop can take a lot of time and energy people don’t have, so she hopes that having a library of short videos will help make information even more accessible to students.
Furthermore, SHARE’s current social media presence is very sparse; it currently only consists of a Facebook page. Frost plans to follow the example set by the Office of Student Engagement and hire a student social media manager in order to widen SHARE’s reach to students. Frost laughed when asked about her social media knowledge: “I do not get Instagram. I’m like, oh, I’ve hit my age thing, right? I can do Twitter, I can do Facebook. Instagram, I’m just like, I don’t understand this.” Frost hopes to post the job listing for social media manager in the near future.
Despite challenges stemming from COVID, Frost feels supported by the college and her coworkers. She notes that in comparison to her colleagues around the country, Reed is much more progressive when it comes to supporting survivor advocacy. Despite a tight budget, Reed has continued to fund the SHARE program. The college has also started to look into hiring trauma specialists at the Health and Counseling Center so students will not have to go off-campus and have easier access to those resources. Frost speaks very highly of her colleagues here at Reed and highlights Carrie Baldwin-Sayre and Hailie Roark in particular. Baldwin-Sayre is the Associate Dean for Student Health and Frost’s supervisor, and Frost refers to her as “a terrific support for [SHARE].” Roark is a project manager at Computing and Information Services who helped Frost set up a live chat feature for students to use when they need immediate advice on weekends, and Frost affectionately calls Roark a “genius.”
While there are things Frost wishes she could ask for from the college, she acknowledges that many of these requests are not feasible given the current situation and feels grateful for all the support the college provides: “There’s really nothing that we need that’s reasonable to ask for,” Frost said. “I mean, I’d love to have a standalone building where survivors can come in and hang out and feel safe. But, you know, maybe in five years when we’ve recovered from this. Right now, the college is doing an excellent job on all levels.”
Above all, Frost wants to reiterate that SHARE is a safe and non-judgemental service available to all students. She stated that SHARE’s priority is harm reduction, which means acknowledging that students will take risks regardless of protocol and working to minimize the harm that results from such risks. For instance, she doesn’t want students to feel like they are unable to come to SHARE for help because they invited the person who assaulted them to their room and broke COVID protocol. While Frost highlighted COVID amnesty as a particularly challenging issue without much clarity as of yet, she reiterated that SHARE is here to help students, not punish them. Finally, she emphasized that people in all departments at the college care deeply about students’ wellbeing and prioritize safety over perfection
“We want to make sure that they enter the community as safe as possible,” Frost said. “And I think that ‘safe as possible’ is really important, right? We can’t be 100% but we can be as safe as possible.”