“Give yourself credit for the small things”: Haven director Liz Cascone discusses career in social work, advocates for work-life balance

Courtesy Photo / Liz Cascone

In the fall of 2014, students and faculty at the College of William and Mary established the Haven, a confidential, on-campus resource for students coping with sexual violence, relationship abuse and various other forms of harassment and discrimination. Two years later, the College began searching for an official director of the research center – a role Liz Cascone, who holds a master’s in social work, has now retained for the past seven years. 

Cascone’s current role is to train student advocates, build a larger vision for the center and collaborate with other offices on campus. Her presence has ensured that the Haven has an established role at the College and continues to maintain a safe environment for students. 

This is a place they can come and understand what their options are, understand what the resources are and then make informed choices about what they want to do moving forward,” Cascone said. “And sometimes all they want is support, so that’s a primary function that we provide.” 

Growing up in Fairfax County, Virginia, Cascone studied sociology and psychology with a concentration in women’s studies at Virginia Tech before pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Virginia Commonwealth University. Following her education, Cascone entered a career in a community-based sexual and domestic violence program in eastern Virginia. 

“My interest area became developed in and around advocacy and social justice and addressing sort of disparities and inequity and particularly around interpersonal violence and abuse,” Cascone said. “I got really into prevention work and started working with the school system and teaching young people about healthy relationships.”

Cascone said her interest in social justice was partly informed by discussions with her family growing up and exposure to inequities while in high school. Understanding how systems of inequity function within the United States led her down an educational path with a greater focus on how certain communities experience various social barriers, as well as how violence is perpetuated and encountered at disproportionate rates. 

We’re not talking about just individual acts of inequity or racism or discrimination, we’re really talking about the history of our country,” Cascone said. “We’re talking about the institutions that really benefit certain types of people over other people.”

Prior to working for the College, Cascone worked for nearly a decade at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, a nonprofit organization that supports local sexual violence crisis centers and domestic abuse shelters across the state of Virginia. Her role included aiding communities across the state to develop prevention strategies in order to address the root causes of violence. 

Cascone said that her time at the Action Alliance gave her some experience in the public health sector, too, helping to create communities and educate local organizations about prevention strategies. 

“The roots of violence are around inequity; around sexism, racism, homophobia,” Cascone said. “How do we begin to address those root causes and how do we then create communities where this stuff doesn’t exist in the first place? What we want to do is prevent this from ever happening to anybody.”

Cascone mentioned that the creation of her current role at the Haven may have been in response to Title IX adjustments in 2016 as the College attempted to navigate federal changes and add more spaces for student safety, support and accountability. Throughout her time at the Haven, Cascone has helped create a sexual misconduct response protocol and training for offices such as Residence Life and the Dean of Students. 

Today, Cascone is working with the Dean of Students office to create an informal resolution option for students, rather than just the current formal investigative process, for sexual misconduct reports. This new option, which Cascone calls an “adaptable resolution,” allows students to participate in specific accountability actions in lieu of a traditional university sanction. 

This type of informal resolution is being developed all across the nation at higher-ed institutions so that there’s more options to address accountability that’s more centered on the harm that was caused to the survivor rather than just the violation of the institution’s policies,” Cascone said.

To Cascone, the most rewarding parts of her work at the Haven are the educational components, as well as the fact that many students continue their advocacy work after volunteering at the center. 

I think it’s also really rewarding to be able to work with students in that most sort of vulnerable time and have them feel like they are heard and seen and believed and that they’re getting the support that they need,” Cascone said. “And despite an experience that was really harmful to them, they still feel like they are part of the William and Mary community.”

Another important factor of Cascone’s work is that it is often deeply personal and not only impacts survivors, but those who work in social advocacy and justice as well. Cascone emphasized the importance of creating a healthy relationship with her work as well as finding time to reflect on her career. 

“I think that there’s sometimes an assumption that one can do trauma work forever and that if you’re good at it, it never impacts you, and that’s just not true,” Cascone said. “We have to normalize that we’re not superheroes, that we have limitations and that we have to take care of ourselves.”

To Cascone, strategies to mitigate her work-life balance include evaluating her work, creating boundaries and normalizing things such as counseling and career changes. She emphasized the importance of recognizing secondary trauma, and creating space to switch things up. 

Outside of her work at the Haven, Cascone can be found hiking, exercising and spending time with family and friends. To Cascone, these factors help her decompress and mitigate some of the more isolating factors of trauma work. Along with this, she is currently pursuing her clinical social work license which would allow her to conduct therapy and counseling services herself. This would also allow Cascone to work with graduate student interns at the Haven who are pursuing a master’s degree in counseling.

“I have become more and more interested in the concept of restorative justice as it relates to sexual misconduct, and so that’s an area of interest that I have that I could see myself doing,” Cascone said. “It’s really about relying less on traditional systems of justice and creating other opportunities that really address the harm that was caused to someone.”

Cascone emphasized the importance of recognizing isolation within both trauma work and for survivors. To her, the Haven creates a space where students can feel heard and believed while being connected to a community as well as resources. 

“I really would want students to recognize little successes,” Cascone said. “Sometimes we strive for those big markers of success or we’re very self-critical. And so I guess, letting students hear that small successes are sometimes bigger.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here