Vickie Sides serves the UChicago community as a Sexual Assault Dean-on-Call and Director for Education and Outreach, Office for Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Support
By Emily R. Ehret
Please note: The Sexual Assault Dean-on-Call is available at any time by calling the UCPD Dispatch at 773.702.8181 and asking to page the Sexual Assault Dean-on-Call. Students should be prepared to provide a 10-digit call-back number. The Sexual Assault Dean-on-Call can also be reached via text by tapping “HELP” in the UChicago Safe App.
For Vickie Sides, interventions against sexual violence occur at two key points.
“You can work to support people who’ve been wounded, but in order to be most effective, it has to be coupled with prevention to decrease the likelihood that harm will happen.”
Sides joined the University of Chicago in 2005 to lead the educational activities and workshops offered by Resources for Sexual Violence and Prevention (RSVP) Programming Center. Now, she finds a natural balance between her role as the Director for Education and Outreach for Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Support and being the University’s longest-serving Sexual Assault Dean-on-Call (SADoC).
“The Sexual Assault Deans-on-Call are here to provide an immediate response to students around issues like sexual assault, intimate partner violence and stalking,” Sides said. “The majority of calls are from people who need a listening ear. They need to talk through something, and they need factual information. We’re there to provide support, to let them know that they didn't do anything wrong, that we believe what they're telling us, and to act as a safe, confidential resource.”
As a resource for individuals who have experienced harm, the SADoC program is separate from the formal University processes for investigating such reports. All SADoC staff members receive specific training to perform crisis intervention with survivors of sexual assault. Students in need can reach out through the UChicago Safe App or can be connected with one of the Sexual Assault Deans-on-Call via the University of Chicago Police Department. This resource is available to all students regardless of gender identity, expression, or sexual orientation.
Since early in her time with the University, Sides has served in this role quarterly for week-long shifts where she is available to students 24/7. Those years of experience have helped her learn to connect deeply with survivors.
“When I say to somebody, ‘You did nothing wrong, you didn't deserve that, this didn't happen because of some deficiency in you,’ I actually know that to be true,” she said. “It's not just words I'm saying to make them feel better. I want to help them understand that they can release some of that guilt and shame that survivors feel routinely.”
In addition to warm, personal support, Sexual Assault Deans-on-Call can provide connections to other campus resources and guidance about what students can expect when reporting an incident to the police or going to the emergency room.
“Our students, of course, are very smart, and most of the time they have looked at information on their own,” Sides said. “So one of the things we do is provide clarity and confirmation. I think that human touch point that they get from talking to a Sexual Assault Dean-on-Call is a reassuring experience.”
Before she dedicated her career to sexual violence support and prevention, Sides said, she did not realize how deeply connected it was to larger issues of equity.
“When I started doing anti-violence work, I sort of stumbled into it,” she said. “I wanted to help people, but I didn't fully understand what that meant. Then I got into violence prevention with a group of amazing women and realized there was this robust activist movement. The issues we were addressing weren’t just isolated incidents of people having violence committed against them. They were actually the result of a certain kind of inequity, gender inequity, that created the circumstances for these problems to happen.”
On the prevention side of her advocacy, Sides works with passionate graduate and undergraduate students who lead programs and workshops through Resources for Sexual Violence and Prevention. These include a Bystander Intervention Program, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, film discussions, speaker events and other activities that increase awareness about violence prevention. Sides is proud of the increased presence and visibility that RSVP has gained on campus over her years with the University, especially as the national conversation about these issues has gained prevalence.
Through this growing direct engagement with students, Sides continues to find new and creative ways to advocate for survivors and share her important message.
“Many people think of activism as marching in the street, but we know it's also more expansive than that,” Sides said. “For example, we've had a student who was a whiz with data. She would use data to tell a story and support our workshop. We've had other students who have been journalists, and they use that platform to highlight important stories. What we’ve learned in the past few years is just how expansive our activism can be, and I’m proud to support that work at UChicago.”