“I can honestly say that I do what I love and I love what I do.”
That’s Dr. Carolyn West’s view of the activism that she does all over the country. An Associate Professor in the Social, Human & Sciences Division of IAS, Dr. West specializes in intimate partner violence and sexual assault. I had the opportunity to interview Dr. West for the blog. I was surprised, that she has so many interests. I left the interview thinking that I may have found a skydiving partner!
Through the hustle and bustle of the college career, students often forget that their professors have more going on than teaching, grading papers, and attending faculty meetings. When asked about her current projects she rattled off a long list: She is doing work on human and sexual trafficking with the organization Washington Engage. Her work on military sexual trauma has taken her to Joint Base Lewis McCord (JBLM) and military bases in Hawaii. She just finished a research project with eight domestic violence and sexual coalitions around the country. Based on this research, her cultural diversity promising practices manual will be published next year. Oh yes, in her spare time she is the co-editor of the forth-coming Sage journal Sexualization, Media, and Society.
Her inspiration for becoming an anti-violence activist stems from the first book she checked out with her first adult library cared in the eighth grade. It was the book Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear by Erin Pizzey. “Reading and learning about domestic violence became a lifetime commitment after that.”
“It is estimated that 1 in 5 women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there — 1 in 5.” —Vice President Biden
When I asked Dr. West why she continues to be an activist, I discovered that she had been a victim of academic sexual harassment as an undergraduate. She described her emotions as, “I think I was just more angry because they knew the professor had been running around and doing this since forever, so I definitely wasn’t the first. I filed a complaint with the university and then a lawsuit. After that, I began giving media interviews. I was fortunate that it turned out okay.”
Dr. West said she had a lot of support, which was important. “My mother wouldn’t have just let me walk away from it.” Dr. West also had a professor who went to bat for her, so she tries to do the same for her students when she can. She noted that not all victims get this kind of support and many do not feel prepared to fight this way.
Dr. West was worried about being kicked out of graduate school and being denied her doctoral degree because of her activism. “That was my biggest challenge.” But she received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Washington-St. Louis. She even went on to complete two post-doctoral fellowships at Illinois State and the University of New Hampshire before coming to UWT in 1997.
She has been busy on campus, developing courses on Family Violence and Sex Crimes and Sexual Violence. Her Sexual Deviance course is legendary. Dr. West was delighted to receive the Outstanding Woman of the Year Award in 2011. After five nominations, she also was thrilled to receive the Distinguished Teaching Award in 2013.
From Hawaii to Washington, D.C., West has given presentations to audiences across the country. When I asked her to describe her target audience, she said, “I think all audiences are going to take away something different, but I do try to be mindful when speaking to victims. Although, people may not recognize themselves as victims. You say something that trigger something else and they realize ‘Oh, now I have a language for what has happened to me.”
Dr. West is so humble about her accomplishments and her work as an activist that she does not think of herself as that remarkable, especially since the statistics on campus sexual assault are so high. “I just happen to have a set of life experiences where I was able to come forward and do something about my situation.”
Her final thoughts, “Dealing with assault is devastating emotionally and physically, so it’s important to respect victims’ decisions on what to do.”
In cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault, contact:
UWT University Counseling Center: http://www.tacoma.washington.edu/studentaffairs/SHW/scc_about.cfm