Nov. 20, 2018

Stories we share about domestic abuse have power to make the abstract real and tangible

Sexual Violence Support Advocate speaks at Road 2 Resilience conference Nov. 21
Tina Guo is a second-year medical student in the Cumming School of Medicine and founder of the Students Against Domestic Abuse Association.
Tina Guo is a second-year medical student and founder of Students Against Domestic Abuse Association Kailey Lewis, Student and Enrolment Services

Tina Guo founded the Students Against Domestic Abuse Association at the University of Calgary for a reason close to her heart — the childhood abuse of her best friend.

“I had a very close friend, and it wasn’t until we’d known each other for several years that she confided in me that she experienced domestic abuse as a child, and how that led her to seek counselling for struggles with mental illness,” says Guo, a second-year student in the Cumming School of Medicine.

After hearing her friend’s story, Guo realized that domestic abuse survivors are, in reality, very different from common stereotypes. This inspired her to become a passionate advocate for survivors.

“I vividly recall being very surprised as she told me her story,” says Guo. “Not by the tragedy of the situation, but by the resilience, friendliness and joy that she exhibited. Who she was is so different from how many people imagine domestic abuse survivors.”

Road 2 Resilience conference

The association's annual conference, Road 2 Resilience: The Stories We Share, gives domestic abuse survivors a space to share their lived experiences through panel and group discussions, joined by professionals of diverse backgrounds. The conference dispels stigma surrounding domestic abuse, by presenting a comprehensive approach to the issue and building the foundation for a campus-wide support network for survivors.

The conference is open to the UCalgary community and will be held Wednesday, Nov. 21, 5 to 8 p.m. in the MacEwan Student Centre’s That Empty Space. Register for the event.

Guo believes the Road 2 Resilience conference will encourage attendees to be advocates and allies for abuse survivors.

“The conference is to educate the campus community, help identify the signs of someone who may be experiencing domestic abuse, and develop strategies to effectively and respectfully intervene,” she says.

“This year, we’ll be having speakers from Law, Medicine and Social Work, as well as a UCalgary student who is a survivor of domestic abuse. Our keynote speaker is Carla Bertsch, the sexual violence support advocate on campus.”

In her keynote, Bertsch will address the intersections between gender constructs, domestic abuse and the structures that maintain rape culture.

“Don’t be surprised if my keynote ends in a call to action for how we can better engage men to end gender-based violence,” she says.

Telling stories, changing minds

Guo wants to help transform the narratives surrounding domestic abuse and its survivors. She believes that empowering survivors to share their stories is a way to effect change in our communities.

“In the literature, there are a lot of statistics and facts about domestic abuse,” Guo says. “Sometimes, in all of this very academic information, we can lose sight of the human side. Domestic abuse is a human issue. It comes with so many emotional and psychological implications that impact individuals on a deeply personal level.”

Bertsch believes that personal stories have the power to make the abstract real and tangible — and that they highlight the pervasiveness of stigmatized experiences.

“I think this is the impetus of movements like #MeToo,” she says. “It’s not ending an issue, it’s drawing attention to how common it is.”