Auburn Family

Auburn Student, Nicole Finley, Seeks True Culture Change by Discussing Sexual Violence

Nicole Finley is a senior from Alpharetta, Georgia majoring in chemical engineering with a minor in business administration.

Earlier this fall, Finley was nominated as a Top 5 Miss Homecoming candidate. Her platform, Freedom with Finley, was a campaign to establish freedom from sexual violence for the Auburn family. Anyone who knows Nicole understands Miss Homecoming was not another item to add to her list of accomplishments. It was an opportunity for her to share her story and spark conversations about sexual violence, which is usually spoken about in hushed tones.

"Sexual violence is not something people are willing to talk about and a lot of times it's because it's not brought up in conversation and people don't think it really happens," Finley said. "There was and hopefully it's been diminished but a blanket of awkwardness over the term sexual assault."

Finley was first encouraged to discuss what she experienced when a previous Miss Homecoming candidate, Taylor Wesley, began her conversation around mental health.

"Before she was willing to step up and be really vulnerable with her story it wasn't a conversation that was heavily discussed," said Finley.

Following this inspiration, she first felt called to share her story and testimony with a close group of people during her sophomore year on a War Eagle Girl and Plainsmen retreat.

Finley said she initially thought she would remain very surface level, but she then was inspired to share her story after hearing another member's story about childhood cancer.

"After talking with Victoria Starks who told me she shared her testimony not for people to know it about her but to open up that place in my heart so I could begin to heal through it, and I could be accountable in healing by the people around me," said Finley.

Finley said she realized she wasn't over what had happened to her when she became emotional as she told her story to the group.

After sharing with the group, the president of the War Eagle Girls and Plainsmen at the time talked with her about how she had support from men in the group, and she said it was exemplary of what an Auburn man is.

The following year at the same retreat, Finley shared her story again with the new group of members. This urged her to want to share her story again but on a larger scale.

Throughout the Freedom with Finley campaign, she strives to be vulnerable with her Auburn family about her experience with sexual assault. By speaking up, Finley hopes to give other survivors the confidence to open up and begin a process of regaining power over their lives.

"When I began to own my story and what had happened to me in my past that's when I began to feel free," Finley said. "Over time I have claimed it the more and more freedom and power I have over it."

This effect of having conversations about sexual violence is the aspect Finley wanted to focus on through her platform.

"When we talk about our experiences we gain the power back from the person who made us feel powerless in our situation," said Finley.

This is also a frequent conversation Finley has had with Melissa McConaha, a WE.auburn committee member and the woman Finley has become close with through her efforts with their initiatives.

One of WE.auburn's initiatives is the Green Dot Bystander Intervention Program. Finley first learned about the Green Dot overview when she volunteered as a representative from her sorority to attend a seminar.

WE.auburn trains people how to interrupt any kind of violent situation. A red dot situation is a possible situation where sexual violence is occurring. Green dots are having conversations and choosing to be an active bystander by distracting, directing, and delegating. This might look like spilling a drink, asking if the person is okay and asking someone with authority to intervene.

"Regardless of what your personality is and what you are comfortable with, there's a way to respond to those for everyone," Finley said. "It's such a simple and tangible way to combat this issue with sexual violence."

Finley said one of her goals by just beginning this conversation was drawing attention towards it. She said when someone finally recognizes they are in a red dot situation then they will be educated on what they can do, and they might feel more courage and acceptance to actually do something.

Finley's motivation to spread this platform was to seek true culture change on Auburn's campus. In order for a change to occur, Finley knew people had to acknowledge there was a reason for it.

"My first point was freedom to acknowledge, and it was one of my biggest goals because it's not discussed and acknowledged then no one is going to do anything about it, and I don't want that to be the case anymore," said Finley.

One worry she had to begin the conversation was the way people would receive it.

"I didn't know how the hearts in Auburn would receive this, and I think that the Lord was very faithful in softening the hearts of people here to receive it well," Finley said.

Once the campaign started, Finley said she felt an unwavering support from very influential men on Auburn's campus. This was huge to her because she wasn't really concerned with Auburn women getting behind the movement because at first glance it is something that impacts women more.

"To see the guys on campus swell behind the issue and recognize that they have a responsibility to protect each other and the women here was so cool for me to see," said Finley.

The Freedom to Protect campaign video was Finley's favorite from the week. It featured the influential men Finley talks about, and they express the responsibility they must uphold to protect each other and the women on Auburn's campus.

Finley said she never expected the men to have the courage or the desire to be at the forefront of the campaign. She said this exemplifies the culture we have at Auburn.

"It's not a selfish culture and people aren't just here to get through school, but it's also an investment back to the community and culture we have on campus," said Finley. "You can see that through the love that was written on that campaign and that platform and people's pursuit of the well-being of others."

Finley said that the efforts of the people that were supporting the platform that week drew people out of a hidden place of not discussing it and gave them the courage and confidence to step forward and share their own personal stories.

"Most people don't think they know someone that's been through it but they probably do," said Finley.

She said she had a lot of people reach out to her and share what has happened to them. They also expressed their gratitude for her for starting the conversation.

"It's still going to happen even after having a week of talking about it because changes aren't made overnight," said Finley.

Finley doesn't credit her campaign for fixing issues around sexual violence on campus. Her goal to address these issues head-on can begin to give people the confidence to intervene and report when issues occur.

"What people really need to consider are the number of current events of sexual violence may actually be going down and the number of reports may be going up, and that's what we want to happen because it's a good thing," said Finley.


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