Working to address sexual misconduct is an ongoing priority on college campuses across the country. At Michigan State University, a variety of experts have been charged with the task of creating and refining programs to best address preventative measures and further educate the community at large.
Mariah Sloat is a prevention specialist in the Prevention, Outreach and Education Department within the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance. Hers is one of 17 new positions created in the last year to improve services for survivors of relationship violence and sexual misconduct and to promote prevention education.
“If through our education we prevent just one sexual assault or one violent relationship, that’s worth it to me," she said.
The department worked closely with student groups and community partners to develop and support activities for this year’s semi-annual It’s On Us Week of Action. The student-run effort mirrors the national initiative's charge to stand up for and with survivors of sexual assault as well as to take action to end sexual violence.
“I think It’s On Us Week of Action is important because it gives students the opportunity to start discussions around sexual violence outside of their required trainings,” said Taylor Owens, student in the master of social work program in the College of Social Science. “It allows students to learn how to make connections and learn how to support survivors.”
The Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance, including POE and an expanded Office of Institutional Equity, was formed based on the recommendation of the Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Workgroup.
Composed of nine experts, the workgroup solicits feedback from the MSU community on RVSM issues and makes recommendations to university leaders for improved programs and policies. A briefing prepared for President Samuel L. Stanley Jr, M.D., includes an overview of the issues facing MSU in its responses to RVSM, a summary of the workgroup’s initiatives and their thoughts for carrying this work forward.
“We have many great people here who have great ideas about things to improve the culture at MSU, with the foundation of doing things because it is the right thing to do,” said MSU Police Department Lt. Andrea Munford, workgroup member. “We need to create opportunities to share innovative ideas and work together for implementation.”
Based on feedback from the campus community, the RVSM workgroup focused its efforts on three areas:
1. creating new organizational structures
2. addressing staffing and services gaps
3. educating the MSU community
Since the workgroup was formed in 2018, additional resources and new positions have been added to the Center for Survivors (formerly the Sexual Assault Program). In addition, MSU has developed a Campus Sexual Assault Response Team and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program. These collaborative approaches are considered national best practices that enhance care and increase the likelihood of criminal prosecution should a survivor decide to file charges.
With funding from MSU as well as state and federal grants, all services are provided free of charge to MSU students, faculty and staff while ensuring maximum confidentiality.
In addition to creating POE, the workgroup supported the development of the Know More campaign to educate the campus community and raise awareness of RVSM-related information. The pending results of the Know More @ MSU campus survey will help further inform and shape prevention programming, policy development and resource allocation decisions.
“As a Spartan, I am resilient. I think that all of us who are working in this field are resilient people,” Sloat added. “We keep trying to find new ways to get our message out and impact people’s attitudes and beliefs about sexual violence and we don’t stop. We don’t stop when it gets hard. We keep going because we are resilient, and we can make a difference.”