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Victoria Bell, BA 2015

Victoria Bell graduated from the University of Michigan in 2015 with majors in Women’s and Gender Studies and Asian Languages and Cultures and a minor in Statistics.  After working as a shelter advocate and case manager at SafeHouse Center, an Ann Arbor nonprofit providing support for those impacted by sexual assault and intimate partner violence, she returned to the University in 2018 to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Policy and a JD at the Law School.  Since returning, she has served as a Graduate Student Instructor in the Women's Studies Department.

After graduating from U of M, you worked as a shelter advocate and case manager at SafeHouse Center in Ann Arbor, correct?  What did that work involve, and what drew you to it?

I was working at SafeHouse for almost 4 years in between undergrad and grad school as a shelter/helpline advocate and case manager doing crisis intervention and providing advocacy services to survivors of intimate partner violence living in the emergency shelter. What I loved about the job was that it was very proactive: each survivor's needs were different, and my role was to provide support, counseling, and advocacy to rebuild and figure out next steps. Like most non-profits working in this field, the need was always greater than the amount of staff or resources easily available, so I was always very busy, which I loved! Of course, what most kept me focused and passionate was the individual survivors I worked with. 

I found out about SafeHouse during my junior year, when I started to do research for my honors thesis. Throughout my time at Michigan, I had realized I had a passion for difficult issues like trauma and violence - it sounds strange to say, but I really thrive thinking about, researching and engaging with topics like sexual assault and intimate partner violence. I initially signed up to volunteer with SafeHouse, but after I found out they had internships available, I applied for one in the Summer of 2014 and, the rest (as they say!) is history! I loved working in the shelter/helpline as an intern and I applied to a full-time advocate position when it became available during my senior year. I actually started working for SafeHouse full-time in January 2015, while I was finishing up my final semester at Michigan. 

You returned to U of M to pursue a joint degree in law and public policy.  Tell us more about what you're currently working on, and what you'd like to accomplish after you finish your degrees.

I decided to leave SafeHouse to come back to school to pursue my JD and MPP and I'm currently in my 2nd of 4 years.  When you work in a shelter, you are doing crisis management for survivors who have already been abused, but I think a lot about structures of power and gender that perpetuate such high rates of intimate partner violence and sexual assault in this country. I decided to see if I could get more engaged in the prevention side of things through these degrees.

When you do a job in a social work field, that often means getting an MSW and remaining a social worker or therapist in a more formalized capacity. But what I most loved about my job was the advocacy side of things, which included but wasn't limited to counseling services. And I really wanted to stay connected to my passion for issues of gender and violence as well as client work, so this seemed like a great way to do both! 

How, if at all, has your time as a Women's Studies major informed the way you approach your work?  Were there particular courses or instructors that were particularly influential for you?

Discovering the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at Michigan pretty much influenced everything about who I became and what I do now in the best way! When I first came to Michigan I thought I was going to be a math major, but then I took 240 [Introduction to Women’s Studies] in 2011 and everything clicked into place. I had always been interested in feminism and gender jsutice issues, queer issues and reproductive rights, but 240 helped me realize that passion for advocacy and activism could be a part of my academic and professional career. 

I switched my major almost right away, and every class I had in the department was great! In particular, for shaping my interest in the legal and policy side of things, I remember classes with Ruby Tapia, Sara McClelland and Ed Goldman being very formative. I also took a couple classes with Wang Zheng exploring the intersection of China and gender issues, which is what I used as a starter for my own honors thesis. My other BA is in Asian Studies (w/ a Chinese language and culture sub-concentration) and a minor in Statistics - I couldn't get rid of my love of math!

What advice would you give current Women's Studies majors?

Take classes that seem interesting to you with professors whose research or interests are something you want to know more about. Being able to engage your personal passions into your academic and professional career is extremely fulfilling, and if that is an opportunity you get, grab it! Build relationships with your teachers and GSIs. We genuinely want to be a resource for you and lift you up as others lifted us up before. Especially in the Womens & gender studies department - I feel very comfortable saying that the professors and other GSIs feel the same way! For example, Ruby Tapia has stayed my personal and professional mentor since 2011, and that has a huge positive impact for me.

Anything else you'd like to mention?

If any students want to chat with me about any part of my experience - advocacy, law school, my Master’s in Public Policy, or being in the WGS department - please reach out!