Campus Wellness Coordinator Kathleen Converse discovered her passion for advocating against sexual violence when she met a woman who was bedridden after having her back broken by her husband. Converse was teaching in India at the time and said that moment and several others in India shifted her path from teacher to social justice activist.
Converse took over as the campus wellness coordinator after previous campus wellness coordinator Laura Siltanen left at the end of the 2015 school year. While she only been here for two months, Converse has been leaving a lasting impression across campus with a powerful message.
“I think because Pacific is such a small school, we can really eradicate sexual violence from this campus,” Converse said. “I’ve been blown away at the momentum here around people wanting to change [the sexual violence culture.]”
Converse began her undergraduate study as a journalism major but was struck to shift her focus to education and psychology after working on a story about inequalities in schools.
Social justice and aid has always been a big part of Converse’s career, starting out working for Teach for America in Connecticut and intercity Brooklyn. She said that experience opened her eyes to a wider variety of social justice.
“I really love education but it made me wonder what more I could do,” Converse said.
It was that spark that led her to India for a summer to teach kids and be exposed to sexual violence on a large scale for the first time.
“It’s definitely more blatant there,” Converse said. “But I almost feel like it’s more troubling here because we do a better job at hiding it but not a better job at preventing it.”
When she returned to the United States Converse said she couldn’t stop thinking about her experience and decided to shift her life to social work.
She returned to the West Coast to receive her Masters in Social Work from Portland State University.
Converse said she was still thinking school social work with education but was placed with a woman’s group that was involved with sexual violence during her first internship. She said she was so struck by the experience she shifted her focus yet again to focus on sexual violence.
“I just kept getting steered toward [sexual violence] work and I was so moved by it, I had to do my part,” Converse said.
She then worked at the university counseling center for a year before coming to Pacific. Her experience with both education and activism give her a unique perspective and approach to affecting the campus culture.
“From what I’ve seen, Pacific is about the same as other campuses which is that one in five women and one in 16 men will be assaulted by the time they graduate, which is sad but I think we are already on the path to make some pretty big changes,” Converse said.
Converse said she believes sexual violence and all other oppressions stem from the root culture that allows certain groups of people to be treated like they’re less than other groups of people.
Converse added that her focus right now is on sexual violence because the university is in the red zone, which is the first six weeks of school in which the majority of sexual assaults happen, but is very focused on the full encompassing wellness blanket.
“This is such an exciting time and there’s so much positivity but there’s this huge risk of sexual assault and drugs and alcohol and all of these challenges you face while you’re here,” Co
Converse and Campus Wellness are focusing on spreading positive conversation and education to as many groups as possible right now and have several large programming events planned starting in October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month through the rest of the year.
The main staple in their current campaign is pledges to end sexual violence already being seen across campus. Her next step will be ongoing workshops and educations to as many clubs, organizations and teams as possible.
Converse is located in the Student Life wing of Clark Hall and encourages students to stop by and say hello.