What inspires a young woman from Virginia to devote her life to victims of violence and to preventing violence before it happens? Where does the calling come from—that desire to help people who don’t have anyone to help them?
For Ashley Gutshall, Transylvania’s assistant director of residence life and coordinator for interpersonal violence prevention programming, it goes back to her girlhood. Those who discount the role of television in the lives of our youth, look out.
It was watching the television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and reading The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce that enthralled Gutshall. These stories featured young women standing up for those who didn’t have anyone to help them. Along with the Harry Potter books, they presented the idea of sacrificing oneself for the greater good.
The direction she would take in adulthood was further solidified by a book she read in college: The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon and Ed Burns. It illustrated the plight of a young man who wanted to break free from the cycle of drugs around him, but couldn’t. He had no help to step out of a hopeless situation even when he tried. She wanted to let these kids know that they have other options. She wanted to be that help.
Even as a junior in high school, Gutshall would take no prisoners. When her class was asked, “If you could make one law, what would it be,” she did not hesitate with her answer: “I would make rape punishable by death.” She chuckles now, as she recalls it. “I’ve kind of mellowed a bit.”
But it’s that sense of wanting justice, and of coming up with a punishment that might dissuade people from perpetrating the crime in the first place, that motivated her response.
Today, Gutshall organizes training and awareness programs for the Transylvania community by day and volunteers for the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center during her “off” time. Her devotion to people and the intricacies of sexual politics inform the lives of those around her. Even her friends are better informed about the impact of what has become common parlance in the video gaming world. Her friends have taken a pledge not to use certain phrases that have been appropriated from vicious acts of sexual violence and are being used as cavalier phrases in gaming.
This is how change happens. First comes awareness. Then comes action.
Gutshall first came to Transylvania in August 2008 as an Americorps VISTA worker. For two years, she worked closely with Karen Anderson, coordinator of community service and civic engagement, and the university’s service and outreach programs. It was during this time that she realized that she could have a career in higher education working with students.
It was also a time that allowed her to work with high school students and see how many of them were missing out on developing the basic tools to get on in life. She held pizza-inspired gatherings where she showed them how to fill out a job application; how to open a checking account; how to choose a better life. She understood the importance of knowing these basics.
Gutshall decided to go to graduate school and formalize the work she’d begun. She attended the University of South Carolina to get a degree in higher education and student affairs. She also became a trainer in bystander accountability, and, ultimately, worked in the Office of Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention and Prevention. “I knew the job would challenge me. I begged them to take a chance on me.” She learned a great deal in the position.
Gutshall returned to Transylvania University in 2012. In 2014, she won Kentucky’s Outstanding New Professional Award given by the American College Personnel Association at its annual conference.
“We have more resources in place than many other colleges,” Gutshall notes. At Transylvania, she shares meaningful programs that were successful in South Carolina, like the silhouette program. By drawing the silhouettes of victims on the courthouse steps, students were able to build awareness of sexual violence by giving the victims a physical presence.
Gutshall is intent on underscoring the fact that violent assault can be emotional as well as physical. It’s one of the lessons she works to impart on young men and women, particularly those who have entered relationships that may not be healthy—or have friends who are in that situation.
She reinforces these lessons in in-depth presentations to Transylvania’s resident advisors. Their training is ongoing and includes discussions about having a safe spring break.
Much of Gutshall’s work is about empowering people to make thoughtful choices, take the best action, and be safe. The media have been helping to get the word out that 18- to 24-year-olds are particularly vulnerable. That’s why Gutshall and Transylvania University are devoted to giving the Transy family the tools they need to look after each other and be safe.
Transylvania University admits students regardless of age, race, color, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, veteran status, national origin, or any other classification protected by federal or state law or local ordinance.