Q&A with Safety and Security Sergeant Rebel Roberts

by Peter Charalambous | 4/28/17 2:00am

Sergeant Rebel Roberts has worked for Safety and Security since 1983. Her responsibilities include teaching a Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) course, investigating sexual assault cases on campus and helping students in a broader role through various Safety and Security functions. Her unique kindness and compassion when helping students has built her reputation as a Safety and Security officer.

What first brought you to Dartmouth?

RR: I went to college and I thought I was going to go into elementary education and become a teacher, special education. And I was at a presentation at my college, and it was a security presentation. They basically told me that there are two ways to defend yourself. And it was at an all-female residence hall, and it was very kind of brutal. I took away that I did not know if I could do that. I stumbled on the security office and met this wonderful security director at my college, and he asked me if I would be interested in working part-time for him. He really was a great mentor, and I got very interested in security work there.

What is it like being a female in a typically male-dominated industry?

RR: I really like that I have a voice in different things that go on in a level in which there are not a lot of female voices. I am usually very straightforward and try to think about what other people might want to say that is going to equalize things. I really love doing the work I do and working with the community. There have been a lot of challenges over the years. I think, when I started, women were not widely in this work nor police work in this particular area, and I think we were looked at differently perhaps and not as skilled. Hopefully that has evolved and changed.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced over your career?

RR: I think my biggest challenge in my heart has been keeping everyone safe and making sure everyone is okay. If you talk specifically about this type of work, I think a lot of people may not understand that we have a devoted staff. You have to be devoted to be in this type of work. You kind of have to love what you do because you see a big and wide spectrum of things. If I look from a historical standpoint, from when I’ve started until now, part of the challenge in the beginning was some of the things embedded in tradition. I think the more diverse Dartmouth becomes, the more beautiful it becomes. In the beginning, I think it was not as open to that, and there have been some more embedded traditions that have since gone away, and there’s a lot more work to be done.

Why do you think students may harbor negative perceptions of Safety and Security, and how do you think this negative perception and tension should be resolved?

RR: I always tell students that if there is anything that is not right, I have an open door, where they can come in or they can email me to come in and find out if there is something better we can do and resolve it. I think that there may be a few individual people that maybe deal with other individual people where they feel that there’s friction, and I really hope that we are perceived as a department who really cares and assists students over campus. I think that you can look at it like an enforcement piece, and I also think you can look at it like an education piece. I’m hoping that some of the mistakes that students make, that if we intervene, it might help them later in life, it may help them look at things in a different way and it may prevent worse things from going on later on.

Can you tell me about your role regarding sexual assault on campus?

RR: From when I started up until 2008, I did deal with a lot of sexual assault complaints as far as looking into them from the perspective of the institution, and specifically the Safety and Security department, and presented them forward and tried to help anyone involved in those with any type of resources or options they needed. In 2008, I was actually the SAP coordinator for a short duration when they were doing a search and was asked to shift into that role, which meant that I was kind of seeing students in a different kind of capacity where I was trying to help them through a process or move forward and find options. After that, I did take on a lot of sexual assault cases within our department, investigated them and took information and moved it forward through college processes, through the Judicial Affairs department and also worked with police agencies all over.

How did your involvement with RAD begin?

RR: Back in 1995, I felt a need for a self-defense course. I looked all over and I found RAD, which is Rape Aggression Defense, and I became a certified instructor as well as a member of our department Mark Lancaster. We were able to start teaching a basic RAD course at Dartmouth for PE credit. It is actually a 13-hour course, and it also covers 41 physical defense moves and we go over a 23-page manual that has risk-reduction avoidance techniques in it. We have actually taught the course since 1996 for PE credit. I went away and became an instructor in advanced RAD and RAD for kids and Kubotan defense, and RAD for Kids. I am actually the Vermont State Director for RAD. I have taught children in Vermont the RAD course and have taught the advanced RAD course at Dartmouth, which can also be taken for PE credit after you take the basic course. All those courses have been for anyone who identifies as a woman. Also, there’s a RAD course for men that I’m hoping will come to Dartmouth someday. But if there are people who identify as males that have concerns, I always work individually with them or in a small group.

Whether through this course or through your involvement with Safety and Security, what drives your passion to help students?

RR: Truly from the moment that I started here until now, which is over 30 years, I have gotten to know students individually and community members, and it’s what made all the difficult times just so not difficult. There are some many wonderful individual people here that I get to meet every day in my career. I feel like I benefit so much from them. I have also seen some not-so-good things happen to people here, so I have a strong desire to make sure everyone is okay, and if I see anyone who is not okay, check in with them. But truly it is the individual students. Up on my wall is a picture of one of my very first class RAD students. The second woman down, who graduated in the Class of 1999, went on and became an instructor and an instructor trainer, and I still keep in touch with her. I really think that there have been many more gifts that have been given to me by getting to know students than I am ever able to give. I truly do care. College is not always easy, and making decisions in moments when you’re conflicted is not easy, and I just hope that I am able to pass on something to students that benefits their lives later. Like I tell students, it is truly an honor and privilege to be a part of their lives.

How do you balance the toughness and kindness as an Safety and Security sergeant?

RR: When I have to be tough, I can be tough, but what gives me joy the most is changing the perception of what a Safety and Security officer is because maybe it should be that we are perceived as kind and caring. I feel like if we can bridge that gap, then more students will call when they need help. It makes my heart wrench if there is someone out there struggling and they can’t call us because they think we are not going to be nice or not take things professionally or we are not going to treat them with respect. I never want to see a student walk around this campus and think that it’s not their campus, because it is as much their campus and anyone else’s. If they go through struggles in life, I do not want them to ever feel alone. I think for me, the role that I’ve played is my perception of what safety and security is. I can be tough; I do deal with everything. I have been in situations where I have had to maintain order, I am able to do that. I also hope that the bigger part of me and my bigger reflection on students no matter what they do is that they are respected and cared for.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.