New office bolsters efforts to combat sexual assault on campus

September 15, 2015

A series of initiatives begun last year to combat sexual assault on campus has expanded under the guidance of the new Office for Advocacy and Gender Justice.

The office, created by President Eastman in March, is working to raise awareness in the entire campus community of the myriad issues involving sexual harassment and assault. Led by Shannon Collins, LCSW, the effort includes prevention, assessment, education and response. Collins is also a confidential support resource for students, faculty and staff.

Four students are working with Collins: Clara Suarez-Nugent, a junior majoring in International Relations and Religious Studies with a French minor; Ami Ortiz, a senior majoring in Psychology; Olivia von Mering, a senior majoring in Human Development; and Tommy “Thomp” Wright, a junior majoring in Psychology.

Collins served as the sexual assault and health issues coordinator at Georgetown University and as the program director for relationship violence services at the University of South Carolina. “Shannon brings a wealth of experience and training in the area of sexual violence prevention and has put together a strong team of dedicated students who will help create a climate of support for victims,” said Associate Dean for Student Life and Title IX Coordinator Lorisa Lorenzo. “Creating a safe campus community is up to all of us.”

During Autumn Term, resident advisors, peer mentors, Autumn Term faculty and EC-ERT team members were trained in responding to sexual assault. Autumn Term also included a workshop led by Resident Advisors called “Many Voices, One Vision,” in which students learned about bystander intervention, campus policies and support services.

All first-year and transfer students completed an online education assessment called “Think About It,” which educates students on sexual assault prevention. All faculty and staff will also receive online training this year on sexual harassment, sexual assault and relationship violence. Additional training sessions are being developed for departments across campus.

Several campus wide educational and awareness events are planned:

  • The Hunting Ground A screening of the Academy Award-nominated documentary about sexual assaults on college campuses followed by a discussion of the issues raised in the film. The discussion will include a Skype appearance by Andrea Pino, one of the campus activists featured in the film. Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m., Miller Auditorium. Part of the 2015–2016 Gender Justice Film Series, sponsored by the Office for Advocacy and Gender Justice, Suncoast Rape Crisis Center, and the Women’s Resource Center.

  • Reading Biblical Rape Texts within Contemporary American Title IX Debates  Susanne Scholz, professor of Old Testament, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. Scholz will discuss how to deal with Biblical accounts of sexual violence within the context of the current debate over sexual assault on college campuses. Monday, Sept. 28, at 7:30 p.m., Fox Hall. Sponsored by the Center for Spiritual Life Burchenal Lecture Series.

  • Check Your Male: In Praise of Our X Chromosomes A spoken word performance exploring how men can redefine masculinity and become advocates for ending sexual assault in their communities. The event features Kane Smego, a spoken word poet and educator, and Graham Hackett, Director of the POETIX Experiential Art Program, who will examine gender socialization, sexual relationships and heterosexism. They explore how men can redefine masculinity and become advocates for ending sexual assault in their communities. Thursday, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m., Miller Auditorium. Co-sponsored by ECOS, the Women’s Empowerment Society, and the Office for Advocacy and Gender Justice.

  • From Margins to Mainstream: Feminism and Intersecting Identities A panel of Eckerd College professors, students and community leaders from diverse backgrounds  discuss their struggles with mainstream feminism. They will examine how the popular American brand of feminism often neglects people of color, LGBT identities, religious groups and impoverished communities. Monday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m., Fox Hall. Sponsored by the Women’s Empowerment Society.

  • The Mask You Live In A screening of a documentary that follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. A panel discussion follows. Thursday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m., Miller Auditorium. Part of the 2015–2016 Gender Justice Film Series, co-sponsored by the Office for Advocacy and Gender Justice and the Women’s Resource Center.

Meanwhile, campuswide departmental protocols are being reviewed and revised to ensure compliance with state law and federal guidelines.

The Office for Advocacy and Gender Justice will provide confidential support and assistance to members of the campus community who experience sexual violence, regardless of where or when the assault occurs. Collins is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in recovery from sexual violence who can provide guidance on reporting options and additional support services.

Collins serves on the Pinellas County Sexual Assault Response Team to ensure continuity of services between campus and community resources.

“The goal of these initiatives is not only to decrease incidents of sexual violence but to create a culture in which members of the campus community feel encouraged and empowered to report assault,” Lorenzo said. “We believe the initiatives that began last year already have helped improve the climate, resulting in an increase in reports.”