Building a safe campus culture

St. Scholastica is on the leading edge of preventing and addressing the tough issues surrounding sexual and gender-based violence.

Thanks to winning a highly competitive federal grant, the College has a Violence Intervention and Prevention Project that is working to create a safe, equitable campus culture. The grant was awarded in 2012, and St. Scholastica was one of only 22 colleges out of 200 applicants to receive the funding.

The VIP grant is being administered by Safe Campus Intervention Coordinator Lexie Generous. She says she's proud of the progress St. Scholastica has made since the grant was awarded.

"I do think CSS is at the forefront of the issue, trying to be proactive and transparent about our processes," Generous said.

Program accomplishments
Some accomplishments of the past two years include complete revisions of campus policies and procedures; extensive training to first responders and campus stakeholders; creation of tracking tools to ensure adequate response to issues of violence on campus; education and program opportunities for students, staff, and faculty; and partnerships throughout the College and the Twin Ports to create a Community Coordinator Response Team.

A team of campus advocates called Gender Equity and Anti-Violence Allies has also been created. GEVAs are able to provide information, support, referrals, and clarification to campus community members impacted by sexual and gender-based violence.

Safe parties are another VIP focus. The BEST (Be Equal, Safe, and Trustworthy) Party Model, which Men as Peacemakers created with help from Duluth and St. Scholastica students, outlines ways to prevent and respond to potential assaults while at parties.

Recommendations include creating an open, non-threatening atmosphere where no one can easily become secluded, setting clear expectations for acceptable behavior, and making sure party guests are looking out for each other.

Growing awareness
The training programs are already having an impact on St. Scholastica students.

Keely Meagher, occupational therapy graduate student and a Storm's Advocate with the WELLU program, said she learned much more than she expected to from the program.

"It made me more aware of the prevalence" of violence, she said. "I think it is easy to think that things like that don't happen or affect Scholastica students... the program does a phenomenal job at providing resources and support to students who are in any way, shape, or form affected by violence."
Senior biochemistry and biology major Dana Nordenstrom, a "Party Revolutionary" with the BEST program, agreed.

"For me, the most important part of the training is learning you don't have to stand by while injustice is happening," Nordenstrom said.
Sophomore biochemistry major Corey Bardon, also a Party Revolutionary, said his eyes were opened to an unseen element of student life.

"One important thing I took away was to respect everyone's experiences and understand how words can affect someone," he said.

Next steps
As the grant funding winds down into its final year, efforts will focus on continued education and measurement of success.

"Next steps are to continue to train, educate, and support the campus community surrounding issues of sexual and gender-based violence," Generous said.

"We are also hoping to have greater institutionalization and implementation."

One measure of success would be a higher rate of reporting sexual and gender-based misconduct. This wouldn't mean that more violence is happening, but that victims/survivors feel safe in coming forward.

"Part of what we want to do is create an environment where people feel safe, and feel like this is an environment where action will be taken in a way that is victim-centered and supportive of survivors," said Tad Sears, director of the Student Center for Health and Well-Being (SCHAWB).

Increased reporting and resource sharing, he said, will lead to improved victim advocacy.