Home Advocate Deep dive into five with surviving attorney Selena Gonzalez

Deep dive into five with surviving attorney Selena Gonzalez

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San Jose State University survivors’ attorney offers emergency and support services to ensure the well-being and safety of survivors of sexual harassment and sexual violence, domestic violence, spousal abuse and stalking. Selena Gonzalez has held this position for SJSU since August 2021. She has been advocating for survivors since 2017.

As SJSU’s Campus Survivor Advocate, Selena Gonzalez serves everyone on campus – students, staff, and faculty.

1. What is the role of the survivor advocate?

The Survivor Advocate (SA) is an essential confidential resource on campus, providing one-on-one and group support to students and staff affected by sexual harassment and abuse, domestic violence/domestic violence, and stalking. We do not report to Title IX or the police.

Our philosophy is based on a survivor-centered and trauma-informed philosophy, which focuses on a few key principles – safety, trust, choice, collaboration, empowerment and cultural relevance.

I first check the physical and the emotional security of the survivor to help process the trauma they are facing. In order to help a survivor, I try to build trust while maintaining boundaries between myself, the task I am capable of doing, and how I can help defend them. I prioritize survivors choice in their healing process and to support this choice in the future.

When the survivor wants information or options, I collaborate with them on what they think is the best option for them. During this process, we empower the survivor to identify their strengths and prioritize skills that help a survivor heal and grow. It is important to me to understand that each individual experience a survivor faces is unique to them because of the lived experience. Culture they grew up in and how it affects their decisions.

A survivor can be assured that when they walk into my office, I apply this trauma-informed, survivor-centered approach.

2. How is this role different from the work that takes place in the office of Title IX and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)?

Although the Survivor Advocate campus works closely with Title IX and CAPS, we are all separate departments.

Title IX is an impartial office committed to ensuring the safety of the SJSU community through investigative processes across the CSU Executive Order 1097. Title IX is the office to which you report incidents of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and gender inequality. Although their services operate with mandatory privacy protocols, they cannot be a confidential service.

Also, since it is an impartial office, they work with a complainant and a respondent respectively. The SA works only with survivors and advocates for their needs on and off campus. They go over the options and break down the pros and cons of each option a survivor would like to explore.

If a survivor chooses not to report to the Title IX office, the SA will support that decision and assist the survivor in seeking alternate avenues of healing. Because the Survivor’s Advocate is a confidential service, they do not need to report their trauma to the Title IX office, and all conversations will be kept between the survivor and the SA.

CAPS is a place where students can go to receive short-term talk therapy sessions with licensed counselors. Topics covered can range from personal development to problem solving. CAPS counselors are there to process trauma, dive deeper into their feelings, and provide trauma-specific counseling at their fingertips.

The biggest distinction between the CAPS and the Survivor Advocate is that the SA is not a licensed therapist. SAs are certified for sexual assault and domestic violence crisis counseling and can help ground a survivor when triggered by trauma. But when a student wants to explore this trauma further and talk about it in a therapeutic setting, the survivor advocate will warmly transfer to the CAPS department to address more.

Additionally, SA is there to identify and normalize feelings, offer informational options and resources, and (if needed) provide psychoeducation about sexual abuse and domestic violence.

3. How does the Survivor Advocate serve people on campus?

The Survivor Advocate serves everyone on campus – students, staff and faculty, and our services can be divided into a few categories:

  • Advocacy: Educate survivors about their options; assist in Title IX, legal or medical proceedings; and work to ensure the safety and support of a survivor. This is where I address immediate needs and begin to offer healing options.
  • Accompaniments: Accompany survivors in most public areas – some including: Title IX investigations and hearings, court hearings, or medical/SART examinations. If a Survivor prefers to meet in a public meeting room (rather than an office), we can meet there. Unfortunately, we are unable to accompany survivors to private residences.
  • Accommodation: Provide accommodations for housing, education, and employment needs through school and community collaboration. This is to ensure that a survivor can continue to be successful in their SJSU career with reasonable accommodation requests.
  • Crisis advice: Offer short-term, confidential, goal-oriented crisis counseling to promote survivor safety and stability. As stated earlier, the SA is not a counsellor/therapist, but can help the survivor deal with their trauma by focusing on their safety and providing tools to deal with triggers as they occur in the moment.
  • Educational Opportunities: To provide educational opportunities for on-campus organizations to learn about topics related to sexual violence, domestic violence, bullying and bullying. The Survivors Advocate can provide presentations specific to your organization’s needs.

4. How does the Survivor Advocate help change the culture on campus?

SA promotes change by being a resource for survivors who experience trauma related to sexual violence, domestic violence and harassment. The SA also helps change the campus culture by providing educational opportunities to the community. They educate on topics such as consent, active bystander intervention, how to support a survivor, and more.

As a Department of One, I think it is important to state that the Survivor Advocate alone cannot change the culture on campus. It takes different departments, organizations and people working together to create change. This includes addressing past institutional betrayals, repairing those harms and building trust, and continuing to expand prevention efforts. I think it will be vital that additional resources are allocated to prevention and education work, so that lasting cultural change can occur.

5. How can a person access the services of the Survivor Advocate?

The SA can be contacted by e-mail, telephone or in person. An appointment can be made by phone or e-mail. If you would like to make an appointment by phone, please contact (408) 924-7300 and request an appointment with the campus survivor attorney. If you would like to make an appointment by e-mail, please send an e-mail [email protected].

The Survivors Advocate is located on the 3rd floor of the Student Welfare Center and is in the CAPS department. They are available Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.