Heal, empower, advocate, rise (HEAR), founded in 2021 by Lauren Rifas ’23 and Mckenna Walsh ’23, is a peer support group for sexual violence and relationship abuse. In an interview with The Brandeis Hoot, Walsh said that the main goal of the group was to “make students feel heard,” and provide a safe space for students to share their experiences. Rifas said that the group was an opportunity to help those feeling isolated and create a sense of student-based community. According to Rifas, discussions with peers can offer a distinct kind of support than what mental health professionals can provide. Rifas and Walsh welcome any students who wish to join the group.
The group meets twice a month on Mondays over zoom. Walsh says meetings begin with a “little mini icebreaker of some sort to say hello.” This is then followed by an activity to make everyone feel comfortable to share their personal experiences. For instance, in their last meeting, Walsh said that “everyone drew out a timeline of their life and plotted out five to 10 important events that happened.” They then move on to the discussion portion of the meeting. Rifas noted that “It feels like communication is always rolling even when we’re in the middle of an activity.” They prepare questions and activities but welcome deviations in the structure to make it as community-based as possible. Rifas and Walsh emphasize that they don’t consider themselves leaders during the discussions. Even while a participant is sharing, “the spotlight isn’t on them because it’s a group,” says Rifas. They both talked about the advantages of using zoom as a platform because students have the option to turn their cameras off, log off at any time or even use anonymous usernames. They also stressed that the group builds around students’ own comfort levels. Participants can share as much as they want or “just not speak the entire meeting and just listen in.” However, the founders are open to exploring in-person activities if they should become safe in the future.
When asked about the challenges they faced while founding the HEAR group, they talked about administrative issues that came with being a “non-official” Brandeis club. Walsh mentioned that they were not able to use listserv and were not listed on the Brandeis club page, which meant “it was difficult in itself to get the word out.” Despite the administrative challenges, Rifas said “for McKenna [Walsh] and I, being a non-official club, is something that makes this group so unique and special and important to us.” They did not go through the process of official registration and stressed that this aspect helps make the group more centered around the community and emphasizes confidentiality.
Rifas’ and Walsh’s long-term goals for the group include reaching as many people as possible and making the group more approachable. Walsh stated, “I want to acknowledge it is a scary leap of faith.” They hope that HEAR continues to serve as a community-based resource that students can look to for support.