Cookies and Communities: Providing a Safe Space for Students

Andrea Hernandez ’22, Emily Grecian ‘22 and Brooke Greiner ‘23 organize a sexual violence support group geared towards high school students

Andrea+Hernandez+22+and+Emily+Grecian+pose+for+a+photo.

Rebecca Michaeli

Andrea Hernandez ’22 and Emily Grecian pose for a photo.

Content warning: mentions of sexual violence and sexual assault

Fliers covered the City High’s bulletin boards, reading ‘Cookies and Communities Meeting’ and as students rushed into their first period classes, a wave of confusion flooded amongst them. This newly established organization created to support survivors of sexual violence began as a school project by three students. 

“It’s empowering that we’re doing something like this. Random people will [approach us saying] ‘this is such a nice thing!’” Andrea Hernandez ‘22 said. “I guess I didn’t really think of [the impact] until we got out there. Before it was just like, ‘oh, this is a project I have to do. It’s not that I didn’t like it, but [at the time] I just thought of it more as schoolwork.”

The group is intended to foster an open space for individuals to share their experience, ultimately creating a community. Though specifically targeting survivors of sexual violence, everyone is encouraged to attend meetings and learn more about this issue. Meetings are held at the Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP) building on River Street. Attendees partake in a circle with cookies and desserts provided.

“Making a place for high school students was something that we wanted, the other support groups that are offered, at least to us, seemed more targeted towards college students,” Hernandez explained. 

Hernandez ‘22, Emily Grecian ‘22, and Brooke Greiner ‘23 took a class through Kirkwood Community College on the topic of Business Innovation. For an assignment in the class, students were required to brainstorm and execute a solution to a problem they saw in the world.

Greiner, a student at Regina High School, decided she wanted to address the lack of safe spaces for and conversation about sexual violence and those who have been impacted.

“We had to come up with something that bugged us as our project. Something that bugged me were the events that occurred at FIJI (the University of Iowa Chapter of Phi Gamma Delta) and the whole thing that was going on,” Greiner said. “Sexual assault is a huge issue and there was no way for high school students to have something to come together and support the cause.”

Hernandez and Grecian both voted for Greiner’s idea of a program to support sexual violence survivors, the three were then placed in a group, and they all worked for months to create their project.

According to a study done by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, in the United States in 2018, 1 in 4 girls had reported being sexually abused before the age of 18, while 1 in 6 boys had reported being sexually abused before the age of 18.

“I want to bring more awareness to [the topic of sexual violence against youth]. I feel like we do not learn about it at a young age and we do need to learn about it at a young age. We never talked about it in middle school and middle school is where we should start, and definitely in high school,” Grecian said.

Before beginning to organize the support group, Hernandez, Grecian, and Greiner did extensive research on similar organizations in the Iowa City area; even reaching out to nonprofits asking for interviews and advice. The closest thing they found to what they were hoping to create was a support group for college students at the University of Iowa.

“It’s awesome to meet so many cool people that work in this field along the way. Even at Kirkwood, we had incredible mentors. I really realized this was a big cause,” Greiner said.

Katryn Duarte works for the RVAP at the University of Iowa, a sexual assault victim advocate and prevention education agency who aim to provide advocacy and support those within the Eastern Iowa region. Hernandez, Grecian, and Greiner were inspired by Duarte, and decided to partner with her and RVAP for their project.

“For me, it’s just making a difference in one person’s life. I know it sounds cheesy, but just knowing that if this helps one person or the knowledge that we’ve all gained about sexual assault awareness is truly remarkable,” Greiner said. “I don’t think that there’s anything else that could replace that feeling. I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”

Due to limited time left in the rest of the school year, Cookies and Communities will be taking a hiatus and the program’s future is uncertain. Hernandez and Grecian hope that students in the future will decide to continue the project they have begun. If you are interested in working with Cookies and Communities you can contact Katryn Duarte at [email protected]