Governor Tom Wolf visited SRU on Wednesday, Sept. 4 for a press conference to discuss the It’s On Us PA Grant, the problem of sexual assault on college campuses and the work SRU has done in combatting sexual violence on campus.
Wolf announced that SRU will be receiving about 20 thousand dollars from the It’s On Us PA Grant Program. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education website, the program began in September 2016. The program allows eligible PA state colleges and universities to apply for up to 30 thousand dollars in funding from the grant program to address sexual assault on campus.
“We have a lot of work to do, but places like Slippery Rock are doing some really great things to make progress,” Wolf said.
The grant funds various on campus programs, including campus wide training for students and staff and campaigns to raise awareness of the reporting process and resources available to sexual violence survivors.
Corinne Gibson, director of the Office for Inclusive Excellence, said the grant is being utilized to target specific populations, find effective ways to assess our campus and raise awareness about resources and processes related to sexual violence and assault.
“We recognize that there is a need for more awareness,” Gibson said. “So creating more widespread knowledge of sexual violence is where we will utilize most of our resources.”
Erin O’Connor, a graduate assistant, said the grant has also allowed consent and bystander intervention education to reach new populations on college campuses. She added that utilizing this grant and showing the work and progress to the public shows that the SRU community is unified in the fight against sexual violence and assault.
“This is not something we’re just going to push under the rug,” O’Connor said. “We as a college community care about this important topic, and we’re going to continue to combat it in any way we can.”
Gibson said the grant’s funding this year will focus on athletics, educational programs and workshops, trainings and surveys to assess progress throughout this year. She added that the grant previously funded posters, mirror clings, and social media posts with the hashtag #SRUSpeaksUp; these campaigns focused on educating the community and encouraging students to take the pledge to speak up when they witness sexual violence.
“Without the support of this grant, these efforts would be very difficult,” Gibson said. “It takes a village to continue to make change.”
According to Jodi Solito, the former director of the Women’s Center at SRU, the Department of Athletics will be specifically involved because “coaches, student-athletes, and athletic trainers are familiar with NCAA-conducted sexual assault prevention and awareness campaigns and are campus leaders.”
“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work with athletics and see how we can really shape our programming to meet them where they are,” O’Connor said.
Wolf’s visit to SRU overlapped with what is known as the “Red Zone,” which is the period of time when college campuses experience the most sexual violence crimes. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), more than 50 percent of college sexual assaults occur in either August, September, or October, and students are at an increased risk during the first few months of their first and second semesters in college.
“This is a very important time to discuss sexual violence. The risk of sexual assaults increases at the start of the fall semester,” Wolf said. “It’s On Us is encouraging these conversations and is increasing awareness, education, and resources to combat sexual assault.”
Wolf emphasized that consent and boundaries are of utmost importance in this initiative. Consent is very important, he said, in building relationships on campus, in the workplace, in personal lives and beyond.
“We need to make sure that no one is being pressured to do something they don’t want to do, and we need to make sure that boundaries are respected,” Wolf said. “Consent is important not only here, but in every aspect of life.”
“Slippery Rock University is committed to providing a safe, welcoming environment free from all forms of coercion and harassment for students, employees and guests,” William Behre, President of SRU, said.
Wolf said schools across the Commonwealth are all working to make campus culture and schools safer, and he commended SRU for being a “pioneer in this endeavor” to reframe the conversation around sexual violence.