The Collegian
Monday, April 15, 2024

Opinion: The importance of asking for help

How Westhampton College helped me through the most difficult times

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

First off, I want to thank those who have courageously shared their stories this past month and continue to work tirelessly toward creating a better Richmond. I am proud to attend a university where this sense of responsibility and level of activism is so clearly visible and vocal on many levels.

I, like too many other students on this campus, have been personally affected by sexual violence. While I am not comfortable with sharing the specific details of my experience, I have been very open about the fact that I was sexually assaulted during my sophomore year at Richmond. I attribute much of this courage and willingness to speak out about the violence that occurred in my life, as well as my dedication to bringing an end to sexual violence, to a certain member of our university community. 

As I talk about the importance of this person in my life, I hope that I do not hurt nor anger anyone. I do not intend to discredit, minimize nor disregard anyone else’s story or experience. I understand that not everyone may agree with me, and that’s OK. My intention is to solely represent and express my own ideas, thoughts and life experiences in the most honest and open manner.

When I was assaulted in the fall of 2014, I was already in a severely poor mental state and did not have the energy nor the desire to do much to improve my situation. I was ready to give up. I have always been hesitant to ask for help but ultimately I did, and I will never regret that decision. 

You may be surprised but I didn’t initially reach out to my friends or peers. Instead I confided in Westhampton College Associate Dean Kerry Fankhauser. I am not one to instantly trust people and unfortunately I am inclined to be skeptical of most people I meet. However, I can say without hesitation or even the slightest bit of uncertainty that I wouldn’t be here, ready to graduate, if it wasn’t for Dean Fankhauser. 

I would never have become as involved in Spiders for Spiders and served as an advocate for the education and prevention efforts on campus if I hadn’t witnessed the dedication and commitment this administrator demonstrated with each and every student who walked through the doors. I have never met an individual so intensely committed to her work and to supporting students. This is not just a job to Dean Fankhauser, this is her passion and what she puts her heart and soul into. 

Regardless of any outside factors, she is always there to support survivors, give them a voice and help them throughout their healing and recovery process. 

Dean Fankhauser has proven that she is worthy of my trust time and time again. Her dedication extends well beyond the workday hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. I never questioned whether she respected, supported or valued me, and I am confident that I will never be hurt or have my trust violated by her. My life has been anything but smooth and predictable over the past few years. However, there has been one constant along my journey: Dean Fankhauser’s support. As a result of this support, I am no longer simply a victim or statistic, but more importantly, a survivor.

My purpose in writing this article is not merely to highlight my positive experiences with Dean Fankhauser. The greater goal is to encourage students, especially the new Class of 2020, to reach out and ask for help. 

For the past two years, I’ve given a speech at the Westhampton College Dean’s Welcome for students that details these same sentiments. I truly believe that we have numerous, wonderful resources and people on this campus that care wholeheartedly about our health, both mental and physical, and our ability to succeed not just at Richmond but far beyond these four years. 

I work in the Westhampton College Dean's Office because I believe in the work these administrators do and have benefitted from every staff member’s endless support and encouragement. Whether it be the RC or WC Dean’s Offices, CAPS, Common Ground or one of the many other offices on campus, I encourage you to reach out. Never fear that any problem is too big or too small, and be assured that there is always someone who genuinely cares and is invested in your well-being. I will always be grateful that Dean Fankhauser was that person for me.

Contact Alex Abreu at

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