Micah Wilkins, Echo Online Staff Writer
Kelly Kelbel called the RISE Crew into her office one day for an important meeting.
“We all came into her office,” said Vic Wiener, a senior who has been on RISE for three years. “She said, ‘I didn’t want you to find out from someone that wasn’t me.’”
Kelbel, director of the RISE Project, announced that she will be leaving at the end of this term. Kelbel was offered a scholar- ship to attend a two month program at Penland School of Crafts where she intends to study book arts.
Kelbel asked the administration for a leave of absence but was denied one. Because of this, Kelbel will not be returning to the community directly after her time at Penland.
Since its creation in spring of 2007, Kelbel has led RISE, the on-campus project comprised of student advocates who seek to Resist violence, Intervene and provide support where it’s needed, work toward a Safe campus community and Empower the community through education and awareness. With Kelbel leaving her seat as director of RISE, some student crew members fear that the project itself may be in jeopardy and the quality of the services it provides compromised.
“RISE is too important to this community to not have the administration be on board to carry on with it,” said first-year Steph Cheung.
This has been Cheung’s first semester on RISE and her way of thinking has been almost completely changed in her short time on the crew.
“It’s transformed my life,” Cheung said. “It’s transformed the lens that I use to view the world.”
Cheung is not the only one changed by RISE and Kelbel’s leadership. Wiener also admires Kelbel for her work and commitment, especially for her holistic approach.
“She’s so conscious,” Wiener said. “I think that’s definitely rare. And I think that will be lost when she’s gone.”
Kelbel’s leaving is not the first speed bump in RISE’s short history. Two years ago, during Wiener’s first year on RISE, the project ran out of funding and Kelbel’s position was endangered. In 2007, Cathy Kramer, then dean of students, wrote a grant to the Department of Justice. The school was awarded the funding to pay for RISE. However, when RISE reapplied for the grant two years ago, the school did not receive funding.
“The question came up of how we were going to fund another faculty member,” Wiener said. “For a while it looked like we were just going to go away or be supervised by a counselor.”
Instead, Student Caucus drafted a resolution stating the importance of RISE to the campus community.
“It was a pretty huge community movement to keep RISE on campus,” Wiener said. “But it wasn’t so much that RISE was in jeopardy, it was that Kelly’s position was in jeopardy. That’s why people rallied to keep RISE.”
The community has indeed benefited, and continues to benefit, from the services and education that Kelbel and RISE provide, Wiener noted. The project’s impact on community awareness surrounding topics of sexual violence, healthy relationships, consent and more, is obvious.
“The consciousness I’m seeing on campus is very different from what I saw my fresh- man year,” Wiener said. “[RISE and Kelbel] have created a much more responsive community. More people are coming to our events and are open to what we’re doing than ever before.”
As Wiener suggests, people on campus weren’t always so aware. The year before Kramer arrived at Warren Wilson, she said, there were many instances of sexual assault on campus. Many students were concerned that the college wasn’t doing enough in response to these problems. The idea for RISE sprang from conversations between Kramer, students and other administrators.
“It grew out of hearing people saying that this is a huge issue that we need to address,” Kramer said.
And the project continues and thrives today.
“Before RISE was around, people hesitated to come out and get support, or make reports, and I think that’s really changed,” Kramer said. “People know that if some- thing happens, they can find support at the RISE Office. And that’s a huge change.”
While the services and resources that RISE provides are valued by most, some on the crew argue that RISE, as well as other crews like EMPOWER and the Multicultural Resource Center, is taken for granted by the administration. According to RISE Crew member junior Jamila Stevenson, those crews dealing with issues of diversity and social justice are undervalued, despite their supposed importance on campus.
“If RISE was the Farm or Forestry Crew, and the supervisor left, this would not be happening,” Stevenson said. “We wouldn’t be wondering about the crew, if it will be here in the future. I think it’s sad that the administration sees these crews as being dispensable. [RISE] should be the top priority, but it’s not.”
Whether it’s importance is evident or not, Kramer maintains that the need for education and awareness around these issues will always be here.
“It’s easy to say that, ‘But it’s Warren Wilson, we’re so progressive, things like that don’t happen here,’ but really they do,” Kramer said. “I’d love to say there would be a time when we wouldn’t need this service anymore, but I don’t think that’s true.”