Tara O'Toole

International Experience Country:
Cohort Year:
Home Institution:

Washington & Jefferson College

Heinz Programming Area:
Arts and Culture
International Experience Summary:

Tara took an Irish Studies class at Dublin City University in Ireland for four weeks during which time she learned about the beginnings or Ireland to the country in its present day. This class taught her a lot about the struggles which shaped Ireland and have given the people their certain beliefs and values.  Tara explored a lot of Catholic and Protestant churches and castles which all played pivotal historical roles in shaping the country through fighting during times of political and religious tensions. In addition, on the weekends she explored the entire country in order to truly understand all of the history she was learning about.  Being able to see all of this history opened truly enlightened Tara to the religious, dedicated, and feisty ways of the Irish people and identity.  Furthermore, whenever she went to a new city or town she made it a habit to walk around and get a feel for how it was different or similar to the other towns she had already seen.  She also spent time at the local pubs wherever she journeyed in order to talk to the locals and get a feel for the authentic culture. Going around the country she established a true feel for the political and religious tensions and history between the North and South/ Protestants and Catholics of Ireland.  This clear division really impacted her as she has been raised in a firm Christian home and really taught her the value of not only the freedom she has to practice her religion but the value of her own faith and spirituality.  Through her travels and studies she also developed a strong admiration and appreciation for her Irish roots which encourage standing up for one’s own beliefs, rights, and values no matter the cost.  Last but not least, traveling great distances by herself gave Tara a lot of introspective time to reflect on the kind of person she wants to be perceived as while finding a new independence in exploring a foreign place alone for the first time.

Community Engagement Experience Summary:

CEE Title: Shatter the Silence 

In December 2017 Alex Scalise, Danielle Shellgren, and Tara O’Toole presented a CEE titled “Shatter the Silence.” It focused on the global and local issue on our W&J campus of sexual assault.  The goal of the event was to bring the global issue of sexual assault to the table considering it is an epidemic which plagues many people from all over the world including students on W&J’s campus. The W&J campus was to have an open, safe, and constructive discussion about the dangers and effects of sexual assault.  Having such a discussion brought a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” issue out of the shadows on W&J’s campus and brought awareness to others.  The event was structured to be a human library on sexual assault where there were 10 letters from sexual assault survivors laid out for people to read these individual experiences.  An additional section of the event was titled “Well, what were you wearing?” which had survivors’ clothing hung up on display to showcase all the different scenarios in which sexual assault can happen. At each table where people sat questions for talking points of conversation were available to enhance and open up the discussion. In addition, the local Washington organization of sexual assault prevention called STTARS came and set up a table in order to get some students interested in the local community outreach initiative for sexual assault. There were two main goals of this event.  First, to prove to survivors on campus that they were not alone, that many others have been affected by sexual assault, and to let them know that they have a support system.   Secondly, to let others know about the dangers of sexual assault to help prevent future cases on W&J’s campus in the future.  This CEE started a conversation on W&J’s campus that needed to be brought to light and began a conversation that will continue beyond just the CEE event.  This CEE created the precedent for a discussion which will continue to create awareness for a better future on W&J’s campus.