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Class Notes: U-High alum dedicates himself to the cause of sexual violence

Joshua Daniel Phillips ’02 had no idea his life’s work would turn out to be raising awareness for sexual violence.

A state champion wrestler at one of Illinois State’s Laboratory Schools, University High School, he went on to Central Michigan University. There he joined a peer advocacy group that operated a 24-hour rape counseling line.

“At first I didn’t know this issue was so prevalent,” Phillips said. “But after hearing so many people’s stories, I couldn’t help but stay involved.”

And he did, as an undergraduate and graduate student. Each fall he completed 60 hours of training and talked about sexual violence with students, organizations, and colleges as far away as Boston.

After graduating in 2006 with bachelor’s degrees in broadcasting and the cinematic arts and world religion, Phillips worked in homeless shelters and after-school programs with Mission Year in Camden, New Jersey. He returned to Central Michigan and began his master’s in communication, continuing his peer advocacy group work.

To raise awareness, he and a group of peers decided to walk the East Coast. They started the 1,800-mile journey from Miami to Boston in May of 2008 and crossed into Boston in July.

“We met a lot of survivors and heard a lot of stories,” he said. “Out of the 85 days, we only pitched our tent five times. On most nights people either took us in or paid for a hotel room.”

When they reached Connecticut, they were invited to stay with Sen. Chris Dodd and his family. The senator gave them a free night’s stay at a Boston hotel, complete with massages and fine dining.

After completing his master’s degree a semester later, Phillips found himself unemployed for six months. He decided to write about the stories he’d heard, unintentionally ending up with a book that reinforces the reality that “sexual violence is not just a college issue, it’s a social issue. People don’t seem to know about it.”

The message he hopes readers take away is that you don’t have to walk the East Coast to make a difference, just look around your community and get involved.

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