By JENNA DAVENPORT
The University of Mary Washington recently received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s official press release, the main objective in creating this program is “in recognition of the unique issues and challenges that colleges and universities face in preventing and responding to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.”
UMW now requires all incoming students to complete a “mandatory prevention and education program” as a part of sexual assault awareness.
UMW will also be establishing a new Center for Prevention and Advocacy to expand on confidential services and prevention programs. This center is estimated to be available to the university community in January of 2017. “This center will serve as the third confidential space on campus for victims and survivors.” said Avina Ross, UMW’s sexual assault and prevention specialist.
The press release states that the program will “enhance victim safety, provide services for victims and supports efforts to hold offenders accountable.”
UMW school officials from the Office of Title IX, Student Affairs, Campus Police, Disability Resources, Athletics, Human Resources, James Farmer Multicultural Center, Multicultural Leadership Council, Team of Empowerment, Advocacy and Leadership (TEAL) Peer Educators, Judicial Affairs, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion and the Talley Center created an abstract of its proposed projects which included a project narrative, a budget detail summary sheet, and memoranda of understanding as an application for this program.
Outside contributors such as the Fredericksburg Police Department, Empowerhouse, Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault (RCASA) and Victim Witness also assisted in this process. The purpose of the grant is to reduce sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on college campuses.
UMW will not be able to conduct research as an aspect of the projects, but will be able to allocate up to three percent of the budget towards assessing the effectiveness of funded activities. The university must create memoranda of understanding, officially known as the Internal Memorandum of Understanding, IMOU, and the External Memorandum of
Understanding, EMOU. These documents are the partnership agreements between internal and external partners of each college or university’s projects.
The grant will enable the university to create a coordinated community response team made up of UMW staff, pertinent student groups, the Fredericksburg Police Department, Fredericksburg Victim Witness Program, Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault and Empowerhouse, a local domestic violence shelter that provides intervention programs. According to Ross, UMW will also establish a “domestic violence fatality review team” to review cases of UMW community members dying as a result of domestic violence.
These individuals and local “internal and external partnerships” will have to go through a training process in order to serve the UMW campus. All campus law enforcement, all members of campus disciplinary boards, and any other members of the coordinated community response team must have ongoing training.
All colleges and universities that receive the grant are required to implement universal prevention strategies, to include programs for the entire campus community, as well as a bystander intervention program for all students.
Among other goals of the program it includes: providing victim services and advocacy, participating in ongoing mandatory and proactive Technical Assistance programs provided by the Office on Violence Against Women.
“With nearly [$330,000] between the two-sexual assault awareness grants we’ve received this semester, I think UMW will have a chance to provide a lot of beneficial assistance to the community,”said senior history major Kelly Haynes. The consensus around a group of students questioned is that they seem excited at the prospect of additional services and improved programs being implemented.
However, there are some comments of uncertainty. The original press release is a little vague and students are not sure what exactly the new and improved programs will include.
“My only question is how beneficial is the fatality review team going to be? As far as I’m aware, we’ve only had one fatality since I have been here, Grace Mann, so I’m not sure if we really need a team for domestic violence deaths,” Haynes said. “It does not seem like it’s a very prominent problem, especially in comparison to rape and sexual assault.”
The details of these new projects are still generally ambiguous. Students are passionate about these types of issues, especially on our campus, and want to be sure that the appropriate time and effort are going towards awareness and prevention of sexual and domestic violence. There is some concern that projects as a result of this grant will spend time and money on a topic that is maybe not as relevant on our campus.
“Domestic violence prevention, red flags and what to do if you are in that situation is definitely something that people should be aware of, but I am not sure we need a team for tracking cases of UMW student domestic violence deaths when there don’t seem to be any,” Haynes said.
Students seem to be excited for the increase in awareness funding, but some are not sure what kind of influence this grant and its subsequent programs will have in the UMW community.
“I think it’s a great idea that the school is finally taking the time to put more effort into these issues. I’m so glad we are finally expanding and funding more programs to benefit awareness on campus,” said Lindsey Crawford, junior historic preservation major. “I feel like this is a topic that is so overlooked at other universities and I’m glad we are taking the initiative to change.”