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Oct. 6, 2022

Engaged for healing: Helping MSU offices move past trauma

The Prevention, Outreach and Education Department at Michigan State University engages members of the university community by utilizing multidisciplinary, community-driven and trauma-informed approaches to educating on the prevention of gender-based violence. One critical area of concern for the department is the lasting impact that harassment or discrimination can have on the climate of a workplace or learning environment.

Executive Director Kelly Schweda, who has been spearheading prevention services at the university since 2008, and Climate & Response Program Administrator Lydia Weiss, explained in a recent interview how their team of 12 dedicated staff members support MSU units and organizations move toward healing and prevent gender-based violence.

Q: When did your group start to address workplace climate issues?

Kelly Schweda:

In 2018, we turned into a department and started to do prevention, outreach and education with faculty, staff and graduate students for the first time.

We quickly realized that to be holistic, our work needed to address multiple levels in order to make large-scale change. So we recruited Lydia Weiss as the climate and response specialist to lead that initiative, and she was the one who created the process we use today. Now shes the program administrator for the Climate and Response unit.

Lydia Weiss:

The process we developed is a values-based approach, helping units and leaders identify what the values of the community are in order to support them in moving forward. Our goal is to prevent future harm from happening within a community of people. We know historically at MSU and just the ways that gender-based violence worksthat there are often residual impacts on those who are in a community. It goes beyond the person who caused harm and the person or persons who are impacted by that harm. We look holistically at everyone who might be impacted, how its impacting the climate and how we can help those folks move forward and find the pathways to healing that are available to them.

Q: In addition to the initial harm, what are the ongoing negative effects in workplaces that have experienced some kind of harassment or discrimination?

Lydia Weiss:

Whether its gender-based or other identity-based harassment or discrimination, youre going to find a reduction in productivity. The research has shown this over and over again. Another thing to recognize is that it isnt just the people directly impacted by harassment or discrimination. It affects the entire climate of a unit, whether thats, I cant trust that my leader will take this seriously, or, I cant trust that my colleagues won’t behave this way, or actually have my back if I talk about what I've experienced.

As is true of any community, everyone may experience these things differently. There is a wide spectrum of ways that people may respond some people might feel anger about the situation and others may not even be aware of what happened. An additional factor is that whether the person who caused harm is found responsible or reintegrated back into the unit, the upheaval can start all over again. So, to have the climate and response team in place to support people in working through the impacts on the climate and someone to understand what they are going through can be really important.

Q: How soon do you jump into action and how long does the process usually take?

Kelly Schweda:

It all depends. Working with our team is never required. These are folks who are reaching out voluntarily to shift the climate in their own unit or organization, and thats really important to the work that we do. Typically, it takes a year or two for a full climate response process with listening sessions to identify trends and then to support that unit through implementation of whatever we collectively determine are the best ways to move forward.

Q: What does the process look like?

Lydia Weiss:

The great thing about the way that we do climate and response work is that its completely adapted to the needs of that team, unit or student organization. Never does it look identical. But more often than not, the first step is doing an intake with whomever is the contact person or persons, often the leader of a unit, so we can understand the impacts and needs. Is there historical harm? Is there current harm? We can assume that there are survivors of gender-based violence in any space that we engage in. And being aware of that helps inform the way that we do our work so we don’t cause further harm.

One of the things that makes us unique is that were asking the community to come together to think about resolutions, to think about those pathways forward so its just not one persons idea, but a collective commitment to improving the climate, restoring trust and reducing the risk of further harm. Sometimes its a multitier approach: We are often engaging at all levels of the unit with undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, staff, and supervisors and leaders and then we, as the Climate & Response unit can help fill in those gaps to keep things moving forward.

Q: What impact has your climate work had at MSU?

Lydia Weiss:

I feel really proud of what weve created and the commitment that we have to supporting folks in their climates. Ive gotten feedback from folks who said they decided to stay at MSU because of this climate and response work. We are making a significant difference, not just at the individual level but across the university. Its about helping people who are going through a hard time. They dont have to do it alone.

Kelly Schweda:

I completely agree. I really believe that this is one of the ways that Michigan State is being values-based because this is a values-based intervention. We have the RVSM strategic plan, the DEI strategic plan and the university strategic plan; they all started from a set of values. I feel like the way that our work is done reflects those university values. Its not just dropping a report and walking away, its actually holding people to the center of where they need to be, as Spartans.

For more information on the Prevention, Outreach and Education Department’s programs or to inquire about a Climate Assessment Toolkit, please visit



By: Carlos Acevedo