When summer internships  were cancelled at the onset of the  COVID-19 pandemic, Brandeis’s  Prevention, Advocacy & Research  Center offered its peer advocates  the opportunity to intern with the  organization for the summer. Eva  Bohn ’22 and Sarah Baum ‘22 participated in the summer 2020 internship program, bringing what  she learned with they into them  academic year.  

Each student worked on a project to present to PARC at the end  of the summer. “I was researching the anti-violence movement  and the way that led to the grassroots feminist movements of the  1970s. These feminists worked in  [womens’] shelters with the dual  processes of providing services  and engaging the community in political activism against violence,”  Bohn explained. 

Bohn said that she initially  pitched a support group to PARC,  but “[Sarah and I] are not therapists. We’re not qualified to lead a  support group.” As she researched  grassroots activism, she noticed  a need for a student-based discussion and advocacy group on campus. “PARC lets [student] peer  advocates be a resource for people  who’ve experienced things similar to what others experienced  and that can be really rewarding,”  Baum said. 

However, PARC peer advocates  have to apply and be accepted into  the peer advocate position. “You  can have that rewarding experience, but not everyone on campus can. And sometimes people  don’t need or want to be in a support position [like a peer advocate],” Baum said. She continued,  “There’s not a space on campus for  people to bring in their own experiences [of violence] and draw on  them in listening to other people.”  The PARC Community Engagement Group emerged from a need  for a student-led and engaged  space. The organization receives  funding from PARC’s budget, but  is entirely student-led.  

In spring 2021, Baum and Bohn  facilitated a Zoom group of four  community members who experienced sexual violence or assault,  and at the end of the semester,  they developed a “zine,” or selfpublished magazine – a project the  members decided on collectively.  In the zine, the members of the  entire Brandeis community were  invited to submit letters to “their  past or future selves, or to their  perpetrators,” Baum explained.  She continued, “Our intention in  making the zine online was to allow people to make submissions  later on if they felt they wanted to.  People could share as much or as  little as they wanted to because it’s  difficult to relive those horrible experiences.” 

In an email correspondence  with the Justice on Sept. 27, Baum  wrote that PCEG focuses on “colearning.” When asked what PCEG  means by this term, Baum said,  “we [as facilitators] are not in a  position to teach community members [who’ve experienced sexual  assault].” Instead, “co-learning  comes from our intent to allow everyone in the group to teach and  learn from each other.”  

This semester, Baum and Bohn  are working to recruit a second  year cohort for PCEG, and in the  spring, they plan to work on a  new project. They have started by  reaching out to student publications and plan to table on campus. However, unlike last semester  where the group was exclusively  open to survivors of sexual assault,  this semester they are expanding the group to include “people  who’ve experienced violence in  general, directly or through family, friends or their communities,”  Baum said. 

Speaking on adjusting from a  remote group to in-person, Baum  said, “Logistically, we need to find  an in-person space where people  will feel protected... the nice thing  about being on Zoom was that you  could turn off your camera or leave  if it was too difficult of a conversation.” She explained that she’s  looking forward to returning in  person, but “this is something we  have to be very intentional about.”  Since sexual assault is such a sensitive topic, she said that “a lot of  what we did was trying to let people take space, not pushing them to  come to meetings or contribute to  the project.” 

Since Baum and Bohn will both  be graduating in the spring of 2022,  they plan to have Priya Sashti ’24  and Tali Gordon-Knight ’24 take  over as facilitators. “Teaching  new facilitators is about being  transparent about what we did and  didn’t do well as we plan curriculums — we share everything that  doesn’t have confidential information,” Baum said. Baum said she’s looking forward  to taking her past experience and  applying it to this year’s project.  “The prospect of being together in  a community-building sense and  creating something everyone is  passionate about is so exciting,”  she said. “We’re doing this to create a space for people to self advocate, and that’s really powerful.”