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Wellness > Sex + Relationships

An Interview with Riley Peck, Relationship Peer Educator

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Holy Cross chapter.

Riley Peck, a junior at the College of the Holy Cross, is a Relationship Peer Educator, or better known as an RPE. RPE’s are trained to serve and inform students about sexual and relationship violence. In this interview, Riley will share her experience and what called her to become an RPE, and how to stay safe and seek help if needed.

What is an rpe for those who don’t know?

Relationship Peer Educators (RPE) are responsible for sexual violence prevention and education at Holy Cross. We conduct Bystander Training and program events promoting healthy relationships throughout the school year. Further, RPEs serve as a private resource for students to share their experiences and concerns pertaining to sexual violence. Our group and individual contact information is listed in the LinkTree in our Instagram bio @hcrpe.

what made you want to become an rpe?

Freshman year, I took Introduction to Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with Professor Chaudoir. This course explored American and global societal systems that create imbalanced power dynamics through an intersectional lens. Gender Studies was that class for me (if you know what I mean). It completely altered the way I view the world and my experiences as a white woman. For assignments, we watched documentaries such as The Hunting Ground and At the Heart of Gold and heard testimonies from survivors. A flame sparked in my soul that, soon enough, intensified into an all-out forest fire. I felt compelled to foster a safer community for my peers, so I applied to become a Relationship Peer Educator (RPE).

What has been your experience since becoming an RPE and what do you love most about it?

When I first joined RPE, I was the youngest member and the only representative from my class. I vividly remember the nervousness I felt walking into my first ever training session. However, I was welcomed with open arms and knew that the other RPEs would soon become my family. Sure enough, they did. We hold each other accountable and provide support in all areas of life. We are accepting of both constructive criticism and praise, remembering that our work is deeper than ourselves. I have found such a home in RPE that, even from abroad, I Zoom into meetings and create social media posts for our Instagram. My role as an RPE has fundamentally changed my perception of myself and my peers. I have become more aware, more empathetic, and more emotionally intelligent – all of which have strengthened my personal relationship and improved my communication skills. I love working towards something larger than myself with people who share my passions and interests. I will never be able to put into words just how much I have learned the past three years. What I love most about RPE is programming. When a light bulb goes off in someone’s head and they share it with the group, a chain reaction takes place. Someone else builds off of the idea, someone else connects it to something we’ve been working on, and someone else knows exactly the person who can help us execute it. Teamwork makes the dream work. I truly believe that our recent events have found so much success because each RPE puts a piece of themselves into the work.

Have there been any moments as an RPE that stood out to you that you would be willing to share?

One particular moment that sticks out in my memory is Take Back the Night 2022, HC’s version of a feminist event celebrated around the world. A group of about thirty of us (RPEs, FemFo members, and other passionate students) gathered on the Hoval in the dark. We made posters, reading “Know Our Names,” “We Believe You,” and “Me F*cking Too,” and listened to survivor statements, some sent in anonymously and some read by survivors themselves. People I had long considered friends shared stories that brought tears to my eyes, stories I had never before heard, stories I could not even fathom to be true. I was struck by just how little I know about the people I see nearly everyday. That night marked the first time I genuinely understood the saying “Survivors live all around us.” We all know the statistics by now: 1 in 4 and 1 in 5, but rarely do we ever put faces to these numbers. I left the event a mess of emotions, feeling incredibly ignorant and incredibly sad, but also incredibly empowered. The sense of solidarity was palpable in the air. I was certain (and still am) that the future of Holy Cross lies in good hands.

How do you feel Her Campus can be an outlet for women to discuss topics such as sexual and relationship violence?

HerCampus can certainly serve as an outlet for women to discuss sensitive topics such as sexual and relationship violence. Clubs do not need to be designated as “feminist” or geared towards sexual assault prevention to address these issues. In fact, sexual and relationship violence has (very unfortunately) integrated itself into our society and our culture. Though there are extreme versions of assault, less extreme versions exist, as well. These include groping and unwanted touching and comments. In college especially, these forms of sexual violence take place more than we may realize. Talking them through in a safe environment with understanding individuals can help individuals come to terms with experiences and the next steps to take. Though, HerCampus can also enforce standards of sexual respect. Sexual violence is not committed exclusively by men. We need to find it within ourselves to say, “Hey, I think your actions were inappropriate last night” to friends. Holding ourselves and our peers to such standards would make campus a safer place.

How has being an RPE improved your ability to communicate with those around you?

Before joining RPE, intimate conversations terrified me. I frequently found myself at a loss for words when confronted with emotional suffering. Now, I know that our words alone do not matter as much as we think they do. Sometimes simply being there for someone, like sitting with them when they feel particularly anxious, is enough. Emotional validation, active listening, and physical presence all aid in creating safe spaces for those in need. Moreover, I have begun to exercise caution when discussing sensitive topics with friends or loved ones. I have started asking, “Are you in the right space to talk about _______?” to avoid accidentally triggering any unwanted emotions or memories.

What advice do you have towards women affected by these issues, or to all women on how to stay safe and aware in regard to these issues?

There is no right or wrong way to heal. I recently read Sexual Citizens: Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus by Jennifer S. Kirsch and Shamus Khan. This book discusses the differences in experiencing and coping with sexual violence. Some refuse to consider what happened to them as assault or themselves as survivors. Some report their experiences, and some don’t. Some turn to licensed psychologists, and some don’t. And all of this is okay. It’s important to do what feels right for you, and only you can decide what that looks like. Of course, safety is important. We know it by heart by now: never go anywhere without a friend, never leave your drink alone, don’t talk to strangers. It’s exhausting – hearing everything we should do to keep ourselves safe when we really need to be discussing how we shouldn’t assault people. A few weeks ago, in France, my study abroad group had a meeting with the “gendarme” (a.k.a, the French police) and other American students about instances of violence in Dijon. The program-head of another American college (which will remain unnamed) raised his hand and asked the officer how girls should dress at night. I would be lying if I said I didn’t almost leave the meeting, slamming the door on my way out. I want to highlight that, no matter what someone wears, no matter what they have had to drink, sexual violence is never the survivor’s fault. Old-fashioned mindsets aim to “prevent” assault through survivor protection and avoidance. As evidenced by sexual violence’s continuous presence in society, these mindsets actually perpetuate the issue. They imply that assault is not the responsibility of the assaulter, when it certainly is. No one should have to carry pepper spray in our purses to feel safe. As far as advice goes, I would encourage each of you to hold yourself and your peers accountable in treating sexual partners with respect. A band-aid only covers the wound after the fact. We need to commit to structural and societal changes that stop the infliction of the wound entirely.

Ashley Bunici

Holy Cross '26

Ashley Bunici is from Long Island, New York and is a Political Science Major and Disability Studies Minor, on the pre-law track. She loves to volunteer and be involved in clubs, spend time with friends and family, and travel.