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ASU grad starts a dialogue on sexual violence in faith communities

Samantha Hill in front of Old Main at ASU's Tempe campus

ASU grad Samantha Hill. Photo by Asa Culver.

December 31, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

Samantha Hill knew personally what it was like to survive sexual violence, so in her time at Arizona State University, she focused on sparking discussion and advocacy within interfaith communities in particular.

“I reached out to student organizations rooted in faith, culture and social activism to facilitate dialogue between students regarding consent, how sexual violence manifests in our communities, how to cultivate healthy relationships and how to support a movement for violence prevention at ASU,” said Hill, who was a peer educator for the ASU Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention Program.

Hill and her friend, Rachel Sondgeroth, received a grant from ASU to implement the Lion’s Tooth Book Club on campus. At this book club, students came together to analyze art and literature related to rape culture, and they had open conversations together about how it manifests in our society.

“It can be a heavy topic to think about on a daily basis, but it is a shared responsibility in every community to help support survivors and to try to change social norms regarding sexual violence,” she said.

“I personally know what it feels like to struggle psychologically, emotionally and spiritually after experiencing violence and I want to help others who are going through similar struggles.”

Hill and some of her friends started the Refugee Support Alliance, a grassroots student organization dedicated to serving refugees both locally and internationally. She was also involved with Sun Devils Are Better Together, an interfaith movement where she met many of her closest friends. 

“The idea that fuels the international interfaith movement is that we are stronger together, no matter what religious or cultural backgrounds from which we may come.”

As she prepared to graduate with her degrees in global studies and psychology in December, Hill spoke to ASU Now about her time at ASU, how she’d advise current students and what the future looks like for her. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: My “aha” moment when I realized that I wanted to focus my Barrett thesis project on sexual violence in religious communties was when I myself became a survivor of sexual violence. 

Every community faces problems with sexual violence, and religious communities are certainly not immune. I was extremely honored to work with Dr. Souad T. Ali and Kimberly Frick on my thesis, titled “The Intersection of Islam, Women and Sexual Violence Prevention.”

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: The religious and cultural diversity at ASU completely surprised me and changed my perspective on the world. Being able to learn about different people opens your mind and challenges you to practice critical thinking skills when looking at the world around you.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose to attend ASU because there were so many opportunities right here in my home state. Why would I go anywhere else when I could work with renowned professors and have access to a vast amount of resources to help me grow both academically and as a holistic person?

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Souad T. Ali from the School of International Letters and Cultures was the most influential professor during my time at ASU. She was the director for my Barrett thesis project, and she taught me that persistence is one of the most important skills to develop when working on a long-term project.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I would advise current students to get started on their thesis projects or critical courses early. Don’t wait until senior year to start! I waited too long and then, when I experienced a personal crisis in my life and started to struggle academically, I fell behind on my timeline and had to take an extra semester. Start early!

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus is the prayer and meditation space in the Memorial Union. This is a space where, as a Muslim, I take time to pray my five daily prayers in a calm and intimate environment. Plus, my friend Rachel Sondgeroth was instrumental in the planning process for the space so praying there reminds me of my close friendships.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I don’t have confirmed plans after graduation. I think I want to eventually work in the field of sexual violence on an international level, perhaps investigating rape as a weapon of war used in cases of genocide and crimes against humanity. I would love to help survivors see perpetrators held accountable for their crimes.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: With $40 million, I would tackle the problem of climate change. Climate change not only threatens the overall survival of humanity in the rapidly approaching future, but it is also linked to many other crises faced by humanity. 

For example, in a Barrett course with Dr. Simon Adams, I learned that climate change is a threat multiplier that exacerbates human conflicts and, possibly, crimes against humanity by leading to competition for resources and disproportionate consequences for survival in the Global South. 

Many problems that humanity must confront can be traced back to climate change. Ultimately, I would argue that addressing climate change is relevant to my specific interest in the field of weaponized sexual violence because slowing climate change could potentially reduce the frequency or intensity of human conflicts around the world.

Written by Austin Davis, Sun Devil Storyteller

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