By: Tom McLaughlin from Rutgers Today, Camden
Loria McGruder vividly recalls that she was overseas when it happened, leaving her feeling helpless, alone, and without anyone to protect her.
While serving in the U.S. Air Force as a security specialist and military police officer at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, McGruder became the victim of sexual assault.
In the years following the incident, McGruder continually fought bouts of depression. So she decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology, hoping to better understand how to grapple with the lingering, emotional scars.
This May, McGruder reached her milestone, graduating from Rutgers University–Camden summa cum laude with a 3.925 grade-point average.
It’s another goal to cross off her checklist, but she’s just getting started. For as she made personal and academic strides, McGruder saw time and again that sexual violence against women is a worldwide pandemic and made it her personal imperative to help other victims fight back.
“I thought, ‘How can I make society better instead of just bettering myself?’,” says the Clementon resident.
Not wasting any time, McGruder is now pursuing juris doctor and master of social work degrees in a dual-degree program offered jointly through Rutgers Law School and Rutgers School of Social Work.
“Throughout the world, human sex-trafficking and sexual-abuse laws are lenient and don’t do nearly enough to deal with these far-reaching issues,” says McGruder. “I want to be a victims’ rights and human-rights advocate, speaking with and for victims to ensure that their voices are heard and that much more is done to protect them.”
As she embarks on the accelerated, four-year program, McGruder will lean on the consistent work ethic and determined focus that she gained serving from 1987 to 1991 in the Air Force, attaining the rank of specialist/E4. A native of Charleston, Mo., she served at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Mont., and subsequently at Incirlik Air Base, where she was responsible for guarding nuclear weapons and entry control points for the flight line, and securing top-secret areas.
As a Rutgers–Camden undergraduate, McGruder exhibited her same trademark, unwavering approach, which she credits to her voracious appetite for knowledge.
“Learning isn’t just work for me; it’s a habit,” says McGruder, who minored in criminal justice. “I feel that the more knowledge you have, the more powerful you are.”
In addition to her studies, McGruder has actively brought her message of survival and hope to various populations throughout the South Jersey and Philadelphia areas. She currently serves as a mentor for at-risk women and sexual-assault victims at the Women of Excellence shelter in Philadelphia, as well as a life coach and mentor to inmates at the Albert M. “Bo” Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center in Trenton.
As part of her graduate studies in social work, she is also completing her first-year field placement at Volunteers of America in Camden, primarily assisting homeless veterans and helping them to get back on their feet.
McGruder also has been a fixture in the student veteran community at Rutgers–Camden, which included formerly serving as the media officer for the student veterans group. In recognition of her dedication and achievements, she was named the outstanding female student veteran for the 2014-2015 academic year.
“Loria is an outstanding representation of our student veteran population at Rutgers–Camden,” says Fred Davis, director of the Office of Veterans Affairs at Rutgers–Camden. “She excels in every endeavor she undertakes.”
The proud mother of three children, Lawrence Richard, Logan, and Kia, McGruder chronicles her path to success in her forthcoming autobiography Journey to Oneness.
“It’s about overcoming necessary obstacles and divine disappointments,” she says, “and returning to my original point: myself.”