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A House Full Of Hope

Friday, February 22nd, 8:00 AM. I groggily turn off my alarm and stumble out of bed. My first thought: “I did not get enough sleep last night.” I got myself ready and headed down to Ellis Hall to meet a student who would take me to Bear Paw Lodge, about five minutes down the road from campus. I was tired, but optimistic. I was honored that my fellow students had invited me to be part of this exclusive retreat, and I wasn’t about to sleep through it. My girlfriend greeted me with coffee and kisses, and I said goodbye to her. When I arrived at the lodge, I was in awe. Who knew a beautiful modern log cabin with enough sleeping room for 26 would be hiding in the woods of Huntingdon, PA?

I unloaded my things and found a cozy room in the basement all to myself. It had a king-size bed, its own bathroom, and enough space that I could have fit my dorm room bed and I still had room! The other students arrived in waves. Some couldn’t afford to miss class. Others had athletic commitments. However, no matter when we arrived, we were all there for the same reason: to learn how to prevent sexual assault and interpersonal violence on our campus and be active bystanders in our communities.

That first day was tedious. We sat through hours of lectures about tough subjects. Presenters from Huntingdon House, the Abuse Network, JC Blair hospital, and the Huntingdon Borough of Police talked to us about how to report incidents of sexual violence, put together a kit of evidence for reporting a rape, and signs of an unhealthy relationship. Naturally, many of us struggled to stay awake after a delicious lunch, but I felt my knowledge growing with each passing moment. Later that evening, we watched a documentary called “The Hunting Ground” about sexual assault on college campuses and how it’s handled by the administration. The documentary featured many survivors sharing their powerful stories. I was appalled to learn that over 200 American colleges and universities are under investigation for how poorly they handle cases of sexual violence. Juniata was not on that list. Afterward, I felt a mix of emotions: sadness, anger, sympathy…I didn’t know what to think. After journaling for a bit, we came together for a group discussion about the movie, which was very empowering and interesting. I went to bed feeling excited to take on the next day.

I woke up in the morning to a fellow student cooking breakfast for us. We ate while scores of other students poured in, ready to get their Green Dot certification. The house was packed, and the energy in the room was electrifying! After breakfast, we worked through the modules of Green Dot certifications, learning how to diffuse dangerous situations through Direct action, Delegating, or Distracting. We also learned how to spot warning signs of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. We did some interactive roleplaying activities and answered many questions using iClicker. At the end of it all, we got our gold “It’s On Us” upstander shirts. After dinner, my fellow overnighters and I shared ghost stories and talked about philosophy and spirituality. It was nice to finally be able to sit down and learn something about my fellow upstanders outside of an academic setting. I felt like I could finally connect with them on a more personal level. I went to bed feeling a little spooked, but happy and fulfilled nonetheless.

On our final morning. We shared a breakfast of leftovers and wrote our final journal entries to share in a story circle. I thought I’d share some of mine with you all. I think it sums up the importance of this retreat quite well:

“So rarely do I meet a group of people who are so passionate about a particular issue that their enthusiasm and dedication is palpable and contagious. Before this retreat, I thought that interpersonal violence prevention was important, but that it would be on the back-burner of my extracurricular college career. I wasn’t sure if I had the power to end sexual assault and domestic violence on campus. Now, with my newfound network of brilliant, passionate upstanders, there is no doubt in my mind that I can. But my fellow upstanders are not just individuals who share my goals, I am proud to call each and every one of them my friends. This weekend truly has given me hope for the future and opened my eyes in ways I could have never dreamed of.”

Aidan Griffiths ’22, Wildlife Conservation POE, avid birder and naturalist