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Refocus STRIVE to fulfill its original purpose

By Sarah Park     4/27/21 10:53pm

Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.

As a former Students Turning Rice Into a Violence-Free Environment liaison, the organization and its mission are incredibly important to me. I originally joined because, as a survivor myself, I wanted to be a part of facilitating safe spaces on campus through educating my peers and acting as a resource to provide support. STRIVE cares a lot about the student body and puts an extreme number of hours into raising awareness and making themselves accessible, as we have seen with the recent survivor panels, college-specific events throughout the year and their response to an anonymous 2019 Thresher opinion. However, we need to readjust how STRIVE is not only viewed and utilized by the student body but also how it is run. The place the organization holds now oversteps into the lives of liaisons and other students and goes beyond what they set out to do with their mission statement. 

The role of a STRIVE liaison is emotionally difficult and can be extremely tiring. Being a liaison never ends; I have personally spent more than 100 hours in the past year doing STRIVE-specific activities and outside of that, STRIVE has made it explicitly clear to me to act as a role model — a stipulation in the liaison agreement — and to advocate the program to other students, both to apply to be liaisons and to use it as a resource. In attempting to create a safe space for other students, student leadership of STRIVE has created a hostile one for their liaisons. The brunt of the work continues to be placed upon liaisons: This was seen with some liaisons expressing to me that they were overwhelmed with work in planning survivor panels, as the executive committee communicated with them ineffectively, leading to more stress than necessary for the situation. While liaisons have some say in the types of training that are offered and can offer insight on STRIVE liaison applicants, the ultimate say in how and by who the organization is run belongs to STRIVE’s executive committee, and I have noticed an uneven power dynamic which extends beyond just an unavoidable, inherent positional difference between the two before. 

(Editor’s note: The Thresher obtained transcripts of messages between the author and other STRIVE liaisons regarding concerns about the stressful workload.)

STRIVE also utilizes their liaisons to have control over other groups they do not have jurisdiction over. In another leadership position I hold in which I work in a group, STRIVE executive committee did not agree with one of our decisions and personally emailed me and formally required me to discuss the decision process with them. They admonished me for not investigating rumors we had heard, saying that my team’s choice was indicative of me misrepresenting the STRIVE program and that I had mishandled my other position. STRIVE executive committee also failed to formally contact my team members, effectively isolating me and placing me in an uncomfortable and hostile environment. While I was a liaison, my role in STRIVE is separate from the role I hold in different organizations, and in the liaison agreement, I agreed to not use my role as a liaison to prevent others from holding leadership positions and to not investigate my peers. Although the executive committee apologized for the uncomfortable environment in the meeting with me, they failed to create an appropriate environment to discuss any of the problems which I brought up to them about their decisions and how they handled the situation after I expressed how I felt unsafe speaking to them over Zoom. Additionally, there is pressure on liaisons from the executive committee and peers to investigate and take action against students alleged to be behaving problematically to keep other students away from those under scrutiny, such as pushing certain candidates for a chief justice role, but that is not and should not be our job. 

(Editor’s note: The Thresher obtained emails between the author and the STRIVE Executive Council that confirmed the aforementioned communications and meetings. The Thresher also obtained screenshots of messages from STRIVE Executive Council member(s) requesting one college’s STRIVE liaisons to promote a specific candidate for Chief Justice in the election.)

While the whisper network has an important place in the Rice community and plays a role in keeping the student body safe, STRIVE has become overly reliant on it and has weaponized it as a punitive measure against those who have reputations due to the Rice grapevine. Earlier this year, I learned that a student was removed from a position based on student complaints to STRIVE liaisons which the liaisons then communicated to student leaders. STRIVE should never be able to control who has access to what opportunities based off of information obtained by concerns liaisons have heard from other students. 

(Editor’s note: The Thresher obtained screenshots of messages between a student that was removed from a position for a club’s event and the author of this piece. The STRIVE liaison agreement, obtained by the Thresher, states that liaisons may not use their role to prevent students from holding campus positions.)

Furthermore, I am struck by the lack of representation within the organization. While the executive committee constantly preaches about the need for diversity, as they hosted a training on diversity and put forth a statement on supporting the Black community this past summer, STRIVE executive committee for 2020-21 and 2021-22 continues to be an all-white or white-passing group of women. It is impossible to fully represent the needs of racial minorities when they do not have a say in the organization. 

I am not saying that STRIVE should be eradicated, but I am saying that it needs to be reformed. I am calling on STRIVE to stop leveraging their reputation and influence in the Rice community to have control over the decisions of other groups and students and to stop allowing themselves to be viewed as a punitive body. Restructure how STRIVE is run and by who it is run. Stop giving STRIVE the ability to abuse their power to influence the greater student body in ways they do not have the right to. 

[4/28/2021 at 12:45 p.m.] This opinion piece was updated to note that the author is a former STRIVE liaison.  

[4/29/2021 at 11:06 a.m.] This opinion piece was updated with regards to the mention of STRIVE’s apology.

[4/30/2021 at 5:05 p.m.] This opinion piece was updated with the author’s name at the author’s request. The author had previously been granted anonymity by the Thresher. 

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