Kathleen Grace-Bishop has been with Health & Wellness since 1983 and is currently its director of health education and support services. She has seen the UNH campus change and grow over the years. In celebrating the 30th anniversary of the establishment of SHARPP, the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program on campus, I thought it would be fitting to hear Kathleen’s thoughts on where SHARPP began as a crisis center for survivors of sexual harassment, assault, relationship abuse, and stalking and where she feels it should go with this work. Here’s what she had to say.
SHARPP: What was your role here at UNH when SHARPP was established, and tell me about your involvement in helping start SHARPP?
Kathleen Grace-Bishop: I worked at Health Services. I was a health educator — the alcohol, tobacco and other drugs educator and counselor. There was a group of people who advocated for SHARPP to start. There were services beforehand, but not SHARPP.
There was a group that took over the dean of students office and I was there. A subgroup of people was talking about what was happening on campus, and I was lucky enough to be one of those people. Staff and faculty could be advocates, and I was in the first class.
SHARPP: Can you describe where SHARPP began and where you have seen it go in the past 30 years? What was your personal contribution to the progress? Is there anything memorable in SHARPP’s earlier days that you can share with me?
Grace-Bishop: To me it began out of the commitment of individuals on this campus to initiate change and challenge culture in this community to stand up against sexual assault. That was the beginning — a very critical beginning. SHARPP has been able to grow and have much more of an impact. Not only does it provide direct service and education, it collaborates with other areas on campus to create change. More student investments, offices on campus and student involvement has been phenomenal. Having the opportunity to be in the group that spoke with the administration was memorable for me; Take Back the Nights were memorable; the advocate class… Now I get to speak in them, and I remember my first presentation with Eve Goodman. The class was powerful. I worked on a hotline at Penn State for undergrad.
SHARPP: Where would you like to see SHARPP go in the next 30 years? What are your hopes for the future of SHARPP and UNH?
Grace-Bishop: All of us would like not to be needed anymore. I would love to see a dramatic shift in our culture, where it wouldn’t be tolerated and doesn’t happen anymore. The goal is to work yourself out of a job. I mean, I guess that’s what I would really want. In the meantime, I think increased collaboration and building upon it so SHARPP’s not in this alone. We all have a role to address this issue, to prevent it, to do education. I think that’s really important. This will never change if we’re not all in this together and not just here on a state level, a local level. Also, our messages must be clear.
SHARPP: How does your current work tie into helping survivors of sexual assault, relationship abuse and stalking?
Grace-Bishop: For me personally, again, this is an issue I had a passion for in college. I was lucky to supervise SHARPP for a year and speak in the advocate class. One, I work on this campus; this is my community. Issues are interrelated. I can’t not talk about these issues when I speak about the other issues I directly deal with. Working for change on campus, sitting on campus committees, it will always be a part of the work directly or indirectly. I could be doing a program and the issue comes up and you have to support or challenge it.
SHARPP: Given the importance of your work and the impact it has on community, what advice would you give to people who may be interested in having a career similar to yours?
Grace-Bishop: I believe in creating change for the better. When I was involved in this work in undergrad, it came from awareness in my women’s studies class. I work from a place where, yes, change is possible and this happens from collaboration and a place of loving and caring. I stopped caring for myself in all areas of life not just SHARPP, when I knew the work was not coming from that place anymore. To create change is not easy work, we have to care for ourselves always. We can get angry, but you have to be grounded and centered in the work. You must move forward. Try not to do the work alone.