Libby Shannon is not a licensed therapist. She is the director of the office for advocacy and gender justice, as well as an Eckerd College chaplain. She acts more as a female family member than a counselor to those who come to her. Her office sits in the Wireman Chapel on Eckerd’s campus. A sparkling pond with shrubbery and trees hugging the cement pathways surround the building. As I walk through the hallway to her office I am aware that I am walking the same path as many students who have nervously approached Shannon, ready to tell their stories. This time, I wanted to hear about Shannon.
Her office is simple and cozy. It has deep-seated couches in front of a desk that Shannon rarely uses. She sits in a padded chair that swivels back and forth as she talks.
Shannon leans in close as she tells me what she does in regards to issues of sexual assault. Shannon explains that she talks with the student about what kind of support they are looking for. Some students want to be directly connected to the Title IX office and not talk to Shannon anymore, with others want Shannon with them every step of the way.
“The difference between my office and the Title IX office is that I’m a victim advocate,” Shannon said. “My whole job is to support victims. I don’t work with accused students. I don’t have to be fair in any way. The Title IX office works hard to be equitable and fair, while treating everyone the same. That’s not my job. My job is to support victims. End of story.”
Shannon has multiple unique roles at Eckerd. One of them is providing a safe space for all types of people.
“My office is confidential, it is a place where students, faculty or staff can come and know that they can freely talk without any other expectation,” Shannon said. “I mirror back what students seem to be looking for. When it seems to me that someone is in need of more therapeutic resources I will help them find these resources, either on campus or off.”
Some spoken words never leave Shannon’s office and, whether she likes it or not, it is part of the job. Dealing with sexual assault or harassment is not an easy task. It takes a lot of sensitivity and mental stamina to hear of such disturbing events on a regular basis. She must sit in her chair and remain calm while hearing things that would make anyone’s skin crawl.
Because of her work, Shannon is especially tuned into the media’s commentary on sexual assault. She believes that we are in an interesting time period where the way we treat sexual assault and victims is different.
“Women are becoming fearless and I love that,” Shannon said.
The “me too” movement has sparked a conversation that Shannon thinks needs to progress even further.
“The greatest threat to a woman is a man, the greatest threat to a man is another man. That’s the next phase of the conversation. I’m not hopeful that we are going to get there,” Shannon said.
In her eyes, while a victim coming forward is fantastic, the real problem is the people who are assaulting them. Shannon wants there to be a focus on how to stop sexual assault and harassment by looking at the predators and their actions.
Shannon is very passionate about sexual assault prevention and victim care. Her soft, comforting voice and passion for justice makes her seem like a small beacon of light amongst a very dark world. It is very apparent why so many people confide in her. She gives one the feeling of being their biggest fan and supporter. It is not fake or forced, it all feels genuine. She chose this role for herself; it was not forced upon her. Her willingness to be there for strangers, and make them feel at home comes from her pure passion to do so, not just for a paycheck.
Eckerd Alumna Amy Varenkamp worked closely with Shannon as a student coordinator for Spiritual Life on campus when she was a student.
“I’ve gone to her for many different things, whether it’s questions about the school or I’m having a bad day,” Varenkamp said. “Probably my best memory was when we just sat and chatted about the best places to go eat, Libby knows the best taco places in town.”
One of the reasons Shannon is so connected to those at Eckerd is because she was a student here. She studied women gender studies and religious studies because they made sense to her in this world.
“I loved that I got to forge my own path here,” Shannon said.
Eckerd is a place that she associates with family. Her sister went here, as well as her sister’s husband and members of his family. Initially Shannon’s time at Eckerd was hard during her first year. She thought that it would be just like high school and she would be able to just hang out with her sister and her friends. That’s not what happened, and Shannon felt lost. It wasn’t until she studied abroad in the London house that she fell in love with all things Eckerd.
Eckerd is a community that Shannon thrives in. It was never in her plan to come back to the campus to work, but life has a funny way of bringing you back where you belong. Her and Dean of Students James Annarelli maintained a good relationship even after her graduation. One freezing cold day in New York City, Shannon received a phone call from him.
“He asked me if I wanted to come home,” Shannon said.
The bulk of Shannon’s Chaplain duties involve dealing with student’s grief, medical support, and religious interests. Occasionally she can suggest off-campus religious communities, but she mainly focuses on the college’s own religious community.
“Libby is one of the many powerful women on staff who makes the school ask maybe more of those difficult questions. She gives those people who have been through very difficult situations a place to just talk, and when needed she helps them gain their voice. She challenges Eckerd both from a spiritual perspective (being one of the chaplains), as well as from an advocate’s perspective,” Varenkamp said.
Shannon never thought she would stay in the position this long. She wanted to do church work and be a congregational pastor. Everyone who knew her said that she would end up doing something else.
Shannon wanted to be involved with the church because she has been her whole life, and she de- fines herself as a progressive liberal church person for as long as she has been on this earth.
Even when she was a little girl she was bringing her future roles into playtime. While her and her friend’s parents were in church meetings, the little girls would act out wedding scenes.
“I never got a glamorous job, I was never the bride or bridesmaid, I was always the minister.” Shannon laughs and says, “Of course.”