New UO community empowers survivors of sexual violence

Alix Brewster and Danielle Ragan both wanted to create a unique community for survivors of sexual violence in which they could find connection, practice self-empowerment and focus on holistic healing.

The result was Empower UO, the first community of its kind at the UO and perhaps in the nation. Formed in partnership with the Office of the Dean of Students, the student-led group provides a safe and supportive community for sexual violence survivors.

Both students came to the project out of a shared concern for survivors. Brewster is an activist who works with the Department of Justice as a student liaison in their work implementing regulations surrounding sexual assault on campuses throughout the country.

“I had been working on this at the national level,” Brewster said. “And thought, what am I doing to help people in my own community?”

Ragan had the same desire to help support survivors in the UO community, and the two worked with the Office of the Dean of Students to create Empower UO.

“It’s really student-driven,” said Renae DeSautel, director of Crisis Intervention and Sexual Violence Support Services, who helped connect Brewster and Ragan. “It’s what they want, and my program is really just there to provide guidance and support.”

The community is more than just a place to find support; it is a community that focuses on sharing positive experiences.

“We can share our (tough) experiences with each other but also have that positive balance,” Ragan said. “We are actually doing stuff to get our life back as survivors. That’s the most difficult part … making that transition from being a survivor to being a thriver. We are a community where you can find support, but we are also focusing on positive things that we can do for each other and also together.”

The group meets weekly in the Carson Hall lobby and welcomes survivors of sexual assault, as well as allies. Together, they participate in positive and empowering activities such as hiking, meditating, writing and crafting.

In preparation for participation in the First Friday Art Walk on campus during Sexual Assault Awareness month, the group held a paint night. They created artwork that will be displayed during the walk. It will also be an opportunity share their work, as well as information about their group, with the broader community.

 “Our biggest focus is looking for opportunities within activities to practice empowerment and self-empowerment,” Brewster said.

Empowering oneself by empowering others is the strong message within the group.

“It’s an empowerment group,” DeSautel said. “It’s a group for survivors to get together and find connection, friendships and empowerment and to be able to share space together and find a community of people who get it.”

Brewster and Ragan are hoping to create a community for survivors not just on the UO campus but also beyond. By first establishing a system that works for the UO campus, they can hopefully bring what they learn to other schools.

“We are hoping we can at least be able to share some of our experiences with other schools to help them because this isn’t limited to one campus or to five campuses, this is a problem on every single campus,” Brewster said.

Empower UO is a safe and supportive community, one in which survivors from all stages of their healing processes can find a community of people who are empowering each other.

“We want to make sure that students know this is a safe place people to come to,” DeSautel said. “If students want to meet people individually — whether that’s with me, Danielle or Alix — to learn more about the group, and then join the group after, so they have a friendly face when they walk in the first time, we would be happy to meet with anyone.”

To learn more about the group or to connect with Brewster and Ragan, contact the Crisis Intervention and Sexual Violence Support Services Office at 541-346-8194. Students can also visit and learn more about on- and off-campus services, confidential support and other support resources.

—By Karen Schmidt-MacKenzie, Student Life Communications