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York College recipient of Justice Department grant to address sexual violence on campuses

October 12, 2016
The York College of Pennsylvania sign on main campus

York College is the recipient of a grant from the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) to help students who are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. OVW recently announced the awarding of 61 such grants totaling $25 million to address sexual violence on campuses.

As a recipient of this competitive award, the College is charged with working “to deliver effective, comprehensive and coordinated strategies that help survivors heal; reduce campus sexual and domestic violence; and improve the institution’s response to these crimes,” according to the OVW.

“I joined Gov. Wolf last year to pledge York College’s commitment to fighting sexual violence on campus by officially joining the ‘It’s on Us PA’ campaign,” said President Pamela Gunter-Smith. “York has a longstanding commitment to educating our campus about sexual assault and seeking ways to eradicate it from our community. This grant will allow us to develop additional tools in our pursuit of that goal.”

York College will use grant support to establish the “York College It’s On Us Initiative” and undertake a number of tasks, including the hiring of a full-time project director to oversee and coordinate all sexual assault prevention efforts and facilitate the work of a Coordinated Community Response (CCR) team.

Members of the College’s CCR team include internal partners representing various administrative offices and student organizations. External partners are WellSpan Health, ACCESS-York/Victim Assistance Center of YWCA York (ACCESS-York/VAC), and Spring Garden Township Police Department. The project director will work closely with these organizations to ensure a coordinated effort among these groups as they provide services to students.

The project coordinator will also foster a partnership between York College and ACCESS-York/VAC. As the College’s victim services partner/provider, ACCESS-York/VAC will provide education and programming geared toward specific on-campus populations, as well as best practices for supporting victims and survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

The College recently implemented a campus climate survey to examine its policies and procedures and measure the effectiveness of current programming. The survey, conducted during the Spring 2016 semester, was used to gather information to assess the incidence, prevalence and characteristics of sexual assault and misconduct at the College, and to assess the overall climate of the campus with respect to perceptions of risk, knowledge of resources available to victims and perceived reactions to an incident of sexual assault or misconduct. 

OVM encourages colleges to use data from such a survey to determine their institution’s specific needs and create a customized plan to respond. “Feedback from the survey, for example, led to a change in our medical amnesty policy,” said Marcie Beam, assistant director of residence life for student conduct and operations. “Results indicated that most students would not choose to report a sexual assault out of concern they or others would be punished for infractions such as underage drinking. Our policy now includes amnesty for any student who is reporting that they or another student they are with has been involved in an incident of sexual misconduct.” 

Another survey question asked if students had attended a sexual violence program. Nearly half of York’s students responded yes. “Since the survey has gone out, a few faculty members and other departments have shown interest in wanting to strengthen our efforts in helping to educate our campus community,” said Beam. OVM grant funds will allow the College to implement Green Dot training -- evidence-based bystander intervention training -- for staff and administrators, and additional training for those investigating incidents of sexual assault. “We will continue to utilize and support our community partners with programming initiatives,” she said.

“Schools that individualize their response to sexual, dating and domestic violence are better able to meet the unique needs of their student populations, especially underserved groups,” said OVW Principal Deputy Director Bea Hanson, Ph.D. “Coordinated, comprehensive responses allow college communities to develop sustainable strategies to address these crimes.”