By EMILY HOLLINGSWORTH
Avina Ross’ work began when she was an undergraduate student at the College of William & Mary and heard from a friend that she was a survivor of a childhood rape.
The friend encouraged Ross to intern and organize programs with her on campus, including Take Back the Night. These experiences propelled Ross to continue working in sexual assault prevention and advocacy, taking her experience throughout the state of Virginia. Ross is now the sexual assault prevention specialist for UMW. She was hired in September this semester and plans to implement two programs during the spring semester.
Ross has previously worked with Virginia’s Department of Health Office of the Chief Medical Examiner as the state’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Coordinator. In this position, Ross worked with cases involving deaths due to domestic violence incidents. Ross has also interned and volunteered with RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network), worked as an adjunct professor of sociology in several colleges and worked with organizations in both Williamsburg and Newport News.
She is currently a doctoral candidate at VCU’s School of Social Work, where she is researching portrayals of domestic violence in media involving women of color and how it can be relevant to social work. According to Ross, she has been welcomed by members of the university, who want to help bring awareness for this issue.
As of now, Ross wants to find students and faculty who are not only willing to learn about the subject and teach others, but to offer emotional support to students and victims of sexual assault when they need it most.
Ross is starting a peer training program for the spring semester called TEAL (Team for Empowerment, Advocacy & Learning). In the program, rising juniors and seniors will receive training regarding sexual misconduct, pedagogy, advocacy/service, prevention, intervention and policy. Once trained, peer educators will work to facilitate educational modules and information sessions to incoming and current student groups.
Interested students can apply between now and Nov. 27. The application will include a professional reference, which can include a professor or advisor.
In addition, students who take part in the program will have the opportunity to earn internship credits, provided that they have a faculty advisor and meet both with the advisor and Ross regularly.
Ross will also be implementing a Climate Survey, which will get student input not only on how they feel sexual assault is addressed on campus, but allow them to detail their own experiences regarding sexual assault, whether they feel that the campus is safe or unsafe, and describe any instances where they have intervened during a potentially violent situation.
The survey, according to Ross, will allow her to understand from students exactly what sort of educational or preventative actions students, faculty and staff most need addressed at UMW.
“[We’re] seeking to capture not only campus norms about sexual assault, [but] student perspective on safety, experiences where they felt unsafe, or intervened,” Ross said.
Ross will be implementing both the peer education program and the Climate Survey in the spring. However, she is looking for the most to speak with students who have innovative ideas tackling this issue. She wants students to feel they can approach her with anything. Her goal is to make UMW a safe place, and to bring her students’ visions to fruition.
“We want to be safe, and we want others to be safe, too,” Ross said.
Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (540) 654-1166 for appointment. During open hours, her office is located at Combs Hall, Room 108.
Editor’s Note: In the original version of the story, the deadline for TEAL was said to be Nov. 22. It is actually Nov. 27. We are very sorry for the error and have corrected it above. – Emily Hollingsworth, News Editor.