By Rachel Heller
Photo Courtesy of SaintelDaily
While Arundel Senior Journey Brown-Saintel won’t be casting spells or attending Hogwarts anytime soon, she and many other students in her community are more similar to fictional wizard Harry Potter than one may realize.
“The boy who lived” didn’t lead a life of just quidditch games and magic potions. Harry Potter experienced a reality that Brown-Saintel is all-too familiar with. This is one that she, along with her club, Wildcats with Wands, is striving to destigmatize: emotional neglect and psychological abuse.
Founder and president of Wildcats with Wands, Brown-Saintel’s club is an extension of the Harry Potter Alliance, an international organization that combines activism with literature. Through the Harry Potter Alliance, school chapters of the likes of Wildcats with Wands can create projects centered upon activism and receive grants to help them reach fruition.
Brown-Saintel expressed eagerness at the possibility of putting a worthwhile initiative in motion. “I was like, ‘Oh, I should do something super, super cool!'” she said. “I thought a really important problem was psychological abuse and emotional neglect.”
She noted that in the Harry Potter series, Harry’s last remaining relatives, the Dursleys, are emotionally and psychologically abusive towards the young wizard. Looking to combat this abuse in a real-life context, Brown-Saintel named Wildcats with Wands’ project, “Down with the Dursleys.”
When deciding to focus the project on psychological abuse and emotional neglect, Brown-Saintel considered the heavy stigma and lack of awareness surrounding such forms of abuse, often resulting in the abused remaining silent.
“With emotional abuse, awful things happen—they get anxiety, paranoia—but people find it strange because they don’t see physical scars. And then it just becomes a cycle, because nobody wants to help them because they’re afraid of what nobody understands,” Brown-Saintel said.
Along with people in her community, Brown-Saintel has gone through her own instances of emotional neglect and psychological abuse. While her experiences may be in the past, she is frequently reminded of the abuse’s existence for others. “I’ll find friends and family members who seem to be displaying signs of it, and I’ll be like, oh right, this is still a thing going on,” she said. “I don’t want people to forget that.”
She feels that the added literary elements of “Down with the Dursleys” will further enhance the project’s goals. “One of the things that I love about literature is that you can find connections that you often don’t find in the real world, sometimes even in media,” she said. “Harry Potter was never physically abused, he was only psychologically abused, and people can connect to that a lot.”
Although “Down with the Dursleys” has yet to be fully put in action, Brown-Saintel has planned nearly every last detail. She believes that the first phase should be an awareness week. For the awareness week, Wildcats with Wands would hang up posters and hold various seminars during Pride Period pertaining to emotional neglect and psychological abuse. Wildcats with Wands plans on collaborating with Seeking Smiles and Wildcat Wellness, clubs focused on matters regarding mental health, to plan the week.
After the awareness week, Brown-Saintel wants to use Wildcats with Wands’ $250 grant to hold sessions for those that have dealt with psychological abuse and emotional neglect. The grant money would be used to purchase a set of bracelets for session attendees to wear. One side of the bracelet would say, “I survived the Dursleys,” for those who have experienced, or are still experiencing, emotional neglect and psychological abuse. The other side would say, “Dumbledore’s Army,” for allies that wish to show support. These sessions would serve as a safe space for Dursley survivors to share their experiences, garner support, or receive information concerning school counselor availability.
Brown-Saintel recognizes that even for her, there was a time where she would’ve been reluctant to wear such a bracelet and outwardly proclaim her experiences to the world. For this reason, members of Wildcats with Wands would attend sessions as part of “Dumbeldore’s Army” to provide extra support.
Sophomore Caroline Smith, a member of Wildcats with Wands as well as the historian and club council representative, expressed interest in serving as one of the members of “Dumbledore’s Army.”
“Although Journey has taken the initiative in [“Down with the Dursley’s”], I hope to be heavily involved with it once we begin to organize it all,” Smith said.
Despite not experiencing abuse, Smith is fully aware of how impactful psychological abuse and emotional neglect can be. She hopes that “Down with the Dursleys” will challenge the stigma that prevents the abused from seeking help.
In a world where, according to the The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty, 1 in 14 children have experienced emotional abuse by a parent or guardian, Wildcats with Wands’ project seems even more dire. Brown-Saintel acknowledges a real-life Voldemort that must be defeated: silence. “Keep talking to people, and I promise that somebody will get it.”