Mercyhurst University

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Mercyhurst nets grant to combat sexual assault

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Mercyhurst University is taking its existing training in sexual assault awareness, prevention and response to the next level, thanks to a $30,000 grant from the  Pennsylvania Department of Education and the 2016-2017 Governor’s It’s On Us PA Grant Program.

Since its launch last January, Governor Wolf’s It’s On Us campaign has sparked a dialogue among stakeholders on how the state’s postsecondary schools can address the issue of sexual assault.

“In order to properly address this growing problem, we must partner with our colleges and universities and provide the necessary resources for keeping all students safe,” Wolf said.

Mercyhurst, meanwhile, has long developed creative programming around issues surrounding sexual assault, said Alice Agnew, Title IX coordinator, who along with Dr. Judy Smith, executive director of wellness, and Sheila Coon, director of sponsored research, prepared the grant proposal.

For the past five years, Mercyhurst has given presentations about sexual assault and bystander intervention to incoming students and their parents. In each of the past three years, a national speaker has addressed the topic of sexual assault during freshman “Welcome Week.” Residence life staff members are trained by Crime Victim Center experts and the university mans a full-time Title IX office under Agnew’s direction.

The new grant enhances the university’s resources for education, curriculum development, training and improved data collection for sexual assault on campus. Among the planned initiatives are mandatory training for the university’s first-responder personnel, which includes key representatives from residence life, police and safety, the counseling center and the Title IX office.

An implementation team will work with the information technology (IT) department to improve accuracy and consistency of data collection and identify trends and target areas for awareness and prevention. IT will also develop an improved online anonymous reporting system as well as informational resources for students, faculty and staff that will advise them of the procedures, protocols and individual rights in the case of sexual assault.

A Campus Climate Survey will be launched in February to assess the college community’s perceptions and attitudes about sexual assault with the goal of identifying the need for further cultural change. The university will also pilot the Coaching Boys to Men program with the baseball team, an evidence-based program using the relationship between the coaches and players to change social norms and behaviors.

“The implementation team and I have already started meeting and are energized to design and execute the plan we have developed,” said Agnew. “The work of educating campus about sexual assault cannot rest with one person and it is exciting to have the funds and the team to move Mercyhurst forward through several initiatives.”

In all, the Wolf administration awarded an estimated $1 million in grants to 36 postsecondary institutions across Pennsylvania.