Students stand with victims of sexual violence

The Hollie Vargas Organization: Students Against Sexual Violence is a new club that has launched on campus this semester. The organization offers a safe space and support network for both victims of sexual violence and their allies.

The organization is named after victim advocate Hollie Vargas, who served as an advocate for sexual assault awareness. Organization founder and NAU graduate Daisy Ornelas modeled the club after Vargas’ work after she sought out help from Vargas.

Ornelas said that Vargas worked for Coconino County Victim Witness Services for almost 10 years before her sudden death earlier this year. Ornelas said that Vargas was well-known throughout Flagstaff because of her impactful presence in the community. The impact Vargas had on Ornelas and other survivors led her to change the name of the organization to honor Vargas’ work.

The group provides sexual violence survivors with numerous on and off-campus resources, as well as weekly informational seminars. The club gathers every Tuesday at the Health and Learning Center on north campus in room 2407 from 7 to 8 p.m. Students and Flagstaff locals are welcome to attend these meetings if they feel inclined to support the organization’s mission or wish to seek help from the club.

Ornelas said the organization’s mission is to engage the community in action toward preventing sexual violence. Ornelas also wants survivors and allies to know that if they come to one of the meetings, they won’t be pressured into speaking about their traumas or experiences.

“You do not have to disclose your name, you do not have to speak — no privacy will be revealed,” Ornelas said. “This is a safe space. Everything that’s talked about in there stays in there. No one’s assault or abuse will be reported, because this is a student-run organization.”

The club seminars are set to cover a wide range of topics, such as toxic masculinity and breaking the stigma of victimizing survivors of sexual violence.

Students Against Sexual Violence informs members of various local support resources. Some of these resources include Victim Witness Services, Campus Health Services and North County Healthcare’s Sexual Assault Support Team. Ornelas also said the organization plans on having various guest speakers at their weekly seminars, such as attorneys and individuals from other support organizations.

“I wanted to make sure that students have this information about these resources — that they could come into this safe space and know exactly what the resources are and remove that intimidation from these places,” Ornelas said. “I’ve experienced them. I’ve sought help from them. I want to remove the intimidation from these places, because I know I was reluctant to go.”

If a member is unable to attend a meeting or if a survivor doesn’t yet feel comfortable with joining the organization, Ornelas said the club will eventually record seminars for their website, and the link will soon be available on their Facebook and Instagram profiles. During the recording of the seminars, the organization intends to keep student and community members’ identities private. Ornelas said they want potential members to know that no one will be recorded unless they consent to it.

Ornelas said the new website will include blog posts from members who wish to contribute coping mechanisms, healing processes, outlets for medical care and a variety of other easily accessible resources.

Recent NAU graduate Amanda Frechette serves as the co-founder for Students Against Sexual Violence. She said she wanted to help Ornelas and the organization in any way she could when it was first brought to her attention. She also said the organization wants to change people’s outlook on seeking help.

“Students should not have to do extensive research when they are seeking support,” Frechette said.

Frechette said it is important to spread awareness around campus and the community. The organization’s board members aim to ensure that the conversation on sexual violence isn’t something that seems unmentionable. Frechette said they want to break the stigmas that surround conversations about sexual violence and get the ball rolling when it comes to starting new discussions.

Co-chair and senior Celia Kramer reiterated what Frechette said about both herself and the organization wanting to normalize conversations about sexual violence.

“If it’s never talked about, it’s never normalized, and conversations about sexual violence become taboo and uncomfortable,” Kramer said. “Those who want to speak forward are afraid and uncomfortable, and it’s time that changed. We want to give people a voice and make a change. Hopefully, we can prevent sexual violence occurrences here in our community. That is definitely something we all have the drive for.”

All the board members said people will be encouraged to use their voices in empowering ways.

“We are planning to have some 21-and-over bar nights, all-ages nights and some open mic or free speaking events,” Frechette said. “We want people to feel accepted and cared for, and we want to have fun together as well.”

The organization’s board wants to let potential members know that there are individuals out there who want to give a voice to victims of sexual violence and help prevent it from occurring.

Ornelas said the organization plans on honoring Vargas’ work and carrying on her legacy by continuing to advocate for survivors of sexual violence on NAU’s campus and within the Flagstaff community. They want to make sure that survivors and allies everywhere know they aren’t the only people going through this, and that they do not have to fight this battle by themselves.

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“This organization is about continuing her work,” Ornelas said. “Continuing to support, and advocate and to never allow herself, nor those who she advocated for, to be silenced again. It will honor her legacy by making sure these voices are still heard, and that more voices come to light, and that more lives continue to be saved.”