The Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center goes remote in response to the pandemic
The Justice spoke to Director of PARC Sarah J. Berg and Peer Advocates/Violence Prevention Educators Juan Bordón ’22 and Tanashya Batra ’21 about PARC’s transition to a fully virtual environment
The Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center is the office on campus dedicated to “providing education, empowerment and support related to sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating/domestic violence and stalking.” PARC consists of two professional staff members — Director Sarah J. Berg and Assistant Director Vilma Uribe — a number of undergraduate Peer Advocates and Violence Prevention Educators and four lead student staff members. PARC offers a wide range of free, confidential services, including bystander training sessions, individual meetings/drop-ins, an online chat feature and a 24/7 hotline. Prior to the campus shutdown last semester, PARC — like other departments and clubs — conducted many of its activities and programs in-person. With new social distancing policies and limitations on gatherings enforced as part of the University’s fall 2020 plans, staff and volunteers at PARC have worked tirelessly to reinvent the ways in which they offer their services virtually, while ensuring the same level of privacy, confidentiality and support granted in previous years.
In a Sept. 11 email to the Justice, Berg expressed that the biggest challenge of transitioning to an online platform “has been grappling with Zoom fatigue, both for ourselves and for folks we are meeting with.” As she pointed out in the same email, this is especially true now that students are faced with hours of online classes prior to their involvement in extracurricular activities. To tackle this issue, the PARC team has incorporated new features into their programs to increase engagement and interaction among participants. For instance, for bystander training sessions — which are offered for students, staff and faculty upon request and last about 90 minutes — PARC members have added stretch breaks, a new community agreement at the beginning of the presentation that asks participants to “be present in the best way possible” and activities that involve using the Zoom breakout rooms.
While it has been difficult to overcome Zoom fatigue, as Tanashya Batra ’21, a Peer Advocate and Violence Prevention Educator, wrote in a Sept. 10 email sent to the Justice, “it’s interesting seeing the way people's contributions to our presentations have changed.” Batra further explained that, previously, participants could only ask their questions in person, which discouraged many from sharing their doubts or concerns. With Zoom, however, participants are able to use the chat box to ask questions, and are even given the option to reach out to the hosts privately. As Batra said, “There are folks who don't participate but send personal messages to us with questions,” which has contributed to a new, more intimate form of communication. Berg added that “The ability to turn off your video if you need some space” has also been beneficial, especially during training sessions that discuss sensitive issues. Juan Bordón ’22, a Peer Advocate and Violence Prevention Educator and lead staff member, highlighted that, logistically, conducting programs online has been much easier. As he pointed out in a Sept. 11 email to the Justice, “We can easily train a group of 40 students without necessarily having to go through the bureaucratic process of reserving a room or space on campus to make it happen.” Even though the transition to a fully virtual world has its advantages, the PARC team is unsure what aspects of this new setting — if any — will be preserved as COVID-19 policies become more lenient.
The transition to an online setting has also affected the undergraduate students that serve as Peer Advocates and/or Violence Prevention Educators. In the midst of a global pandemic, many of them have had to find a balance between helping survivors and taking care of themselves. As Batra shared, “We still work the same hours and have made sure folks on our team in different time zones, like me, being in India with a 9.5 hour time difference are also taking care of themselves and have manageable sleep schedules.” This is particularly important now that the semester has begun, and all advocates and educators, being full-time students, are tasked with managing their course load and being mentally prepared to provide the best quality services possible. Peer Advocates and Violence Prevention Educators are in charge of operating PARC’s chatbox, a feature implemented last semester, available “any weekday classes are in session from 12-5pm ET,” per their website. Conversations through the chatbox are entirely confidential, and no copies of the conversation are saved “unless the person chatting with an advocate wants to save a copy for themself,” according to Berg.
Additionally, as Berg, Batra and Bordón pointed out, a significant part of belonging to PARC lies in creating a sense of community within its members. Berg shared that last spring, when students were sent home, PARC members met over Zoom for a PARC themed trivia night meant to foster bonding. Currently, the entire group meets once a week at alternating times, while other teams working on smaller projects meet separately at times that are convenient for them. Group meetings serve as an opportunity to both discuss progress and check-in with members. Per Batra, “We don't want anyone to feel disconnected… We like to make sure we're sharing jokes, information about our day on our group chat and always start our meetings with fun check-in questions and always reserve time for non-work conversations to emulate the way our meetings are when they are in-person.”
Group meetings are also an important part of the activity planning process. Despite not being on campus for the majority of last semester and having to conduct practically all activities virtually for the fall, PARC has hosted multiple community-wide events. During the summer, for instance, the team used the Netflix Party extension to watch the Jeffrey Epstein documentary, which they split into four parts. During those days, Peer Advocates were available through the chatbox in case anyone needed someone to talk to. The team is “currently in the process of coming up with more events for this semester,” stated Bordón.
Despite the changes mentioned above, PARC remains committed to serving as a resource for everyone in the Brandeis community who has experienced violence or is looking to join the anti-violence movement. Services offered by PARC remain confidential and private, although anyone concerned about these issues is welcome to schedule an in-person meeting with Berg or Uribe.
If you need to talk to someone immediately, please call one of the following resources:
PARC’s 24/7 hotline: 781-736-3370.
Brandeis Counseling Center after hours: 781-736-3785
Brandeis 6TALK: 781-736-8255
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Self-harm Hotline: 800-273-TALK