People You Should Know: Amanda Cook, Sexual Violence Prevention and Response

Our “People You Should Know” blog series interviews key people and offices at the University of Waterloo so you can make the most of their services. 

Amanda Cook is the Director, Sexual Violence Prevention and Response at Waterloo. She supports all students, staff, and faculty on campus who have experienced, or been impacted by, sexual violence.

Why might faculty members be interested in your role?

For a couple of different reasons. If there are any faculty members who have survived sexual violence and would like to talk about resources that are available to them, any workplace accommodations that I can help facilitate, or any other way that I can support them—whatever that individual needs or wants—I am available for them.

And I also support faculty who receive disclosures. Sometimes it’s just to consult about something that they’ve become aware of, and sometimes they’re seeking to share information with or accompany a person who’s come forward to them.

What advice do you have for faculty who’ve had a student disclose an experience to them?

At the end of the day, it’s about meeting the person wherever they’re at and trying our hardest not to make it about ourselves. In an effort to be caring and compassionate, whether we’re conscious of it or not, we bring a bias about what we think a person should do, or what we would do in the same situation. The important thing is engaging in active listening and seeing what that person needs and then trying to bridge them to another support that can provide the safety or the resources they might need.

A lot of times folks minimize how much they’re impacted by caring about other people, but the stress that causes sits with you. That’s normal and there are supports for you.

What’s the most important thing you want faculty to know?

I think a lot of times folks minimize how much they’re impacted by caring about other people, but the stress that causes, trying to coordinate and figure stuff out for students, it sits with you for a while. Even if the student’s not doing anything, you as a holder of that information might have some difficulty moving forward. So just know that that’s normal and there are supports for you if you need that.

Also that there is no wrong question. I’ve had faculty just consult with me about what they could tell somebody if they come forward, hypothetically. I’m happy to work within hypotheticals.

What is it about your work that you’re really passionate about?

What I’m most passionate about is validating where are people are at, normalizing their experience and letting them know that there are supports out there. And that they have choices. A lot of times survivors feel like they’re going to be blamed and that they don’t have many choices, particularly if it could impact their career. But there are different options we can explore with that in consideration.

There are always a lot of myths to overcome, and a lack of understanding. Even the term sexual violence, for example. I’ve had people assuming that if it’s not something actually physically violent, then I’m not the person to come and see.

I’m here to help. However a person needs me to do that, that’s okay.

What do you personally bring to this role?

I’m a registered social worker and I worked at a child and youth mental health agency before coming here. First with the child witness program, and then the sexual abuse treatment program, supporting children and youth who had survived childhood sexual abuse or peer assault, as well as youth who had sexually offended (over 12 years) or engaged in sexualized behaviours (under 12 years old). I grew up in Elmira and this job presented itself, so it was a wonderful opportunity to move back.

What surprises you in your work?

It shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but I’m always surprised. There’s always some new, nuanced situation, some kind of complexity, particularly on a University campus. There are so many different relationships, within faculties and departments, and with groups off campus. What surprised me the most coming here was how challenging it could be to figure out who needs to know what, particularly when considering privacy and confidentiality. I wholeheartedly believe that this role can never work in isolation; it always has to be very collaborative and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how receptive our campus has been in working with this role.

We’re working towards having departments and Faculties take on providing some of the education and awareness within their own areas instead of me doing it all. And then working together to shift the culture and create that space for people to come forward. Each department and Faculty on campus may have their own specific needs that relate to responding to disclosures or being a bystander. Academic advisors may have slightly different needs than a faculty member or than a staff member in Health Services, for example. I believe that increasing capacity across the system to meet the needs of survivors wherever they seek support can only strengthen our community.

I’m a big proponent of self-care and part of that is setting limits and boundaries around your time and capacity.

Are there any particular productivity tools or practices you use to get things done?

I’ve tried to carry over practices from my former workplace that keep me organized: Keeping particular books for particular notes. Staying on top of notes. Putting in travel time. I’m trying to work toward not having back-to-back-to-back meetings, so I have some space to not only do my notes, but also to process whatever that was like for me and then move on with my day. I’m a big proponent of self-care. I’m not always the greatest at employing it, but believe in it wholeheartedly and part of that is setting limits and boundaries around your time and capacity.

What do you do to stay healthy?

I have two children who run me off my feet, and a six-month-old puppy. I used to run a lot before I had kids, so I’m finding ways to incorporate that into my life again. And I really try to keep work and life separate. Being present with my kids is really important to me, so I try not to be connected to email during weekends and evenings as much as possible. I can’t live and breathe sexual violence all day long. It’s not a crisis service and I’m not available 24/7, but those who need to reach me know how to reach me.

Is there anything else you want faculty to know?

What I really want to emphasize is that everything is dealt with on a case-by-case basis. There’s no real template other than that I’m here to help. However a person needs me to do that, that’s okay. You can come and see me and decide not to do anything, and then come back a year later. There’s no time limit; the service is always available.

Do you have ready-made resources people can reference?

We’re working on our website. I’m really eager to have that up and running because that’s going to be the first point of access, not just for those who’ve survived, but also those who’ve been accused of sexual violence and those who’ve received disclosure.

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