“We’re not going backward in the importance of emphasizing and continuing to address (sexual violence) as an issue on college campuses,” said Carlow University President Suzanne Mellon at a mid-September Southwest PA Says NO MORE event in Pittsburgh.
This statement was met with enthusiastic applause by a standing-room only crowd of university personnel, law enforcement, state and local officials, advocates, students, concerned community members and media. They had joined together to celebrate an impressive collaboration between 13 college and university presidents in the Greater Pittsburgh area to prevent sexual violence. Even as we anticipated changes in US Department of Education guidance to colleges on investigating campus sexual violence, we unveiled a new video series featuring all 13 presidents delivering powerful messages of support to victims and encouragement to come forward, report and ask for assistance.
“Change starts with leadership from the top. In Southwestern Pennsylvania, college and community leaders are stepping forward in bold new ways to work together with a focus on prevention.”
This collaboration first launched in February 2015 when the presidents of 10 Pittsburgh colleges and universities (Carlow University; Carnegie Mellon University; Chatham University; Community College of Allegheny County; Duquesne University; La Roche College; Point Park University; Robert Morris University; Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; University of Pittsburgh) declared campus sexual assault to be a shared priority across the city’s campuses. They committed to work with rape crisis centers, law enforcement, sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) from several hospitals, researchers and funders to ensure that victims of sexual violence are met with support and to focus on preventing assault from happening in the first place.
Thus far, these schools have hosted an in-depth training for their teams and community partners on Title IX, held a training for all first responders, worked closely with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) to ensure that every victim who reports is offered an advocate from PAAR as well as support from Title IX staff. Now, every victim is offered medical care by teams of specially trained SANEs. Title IX coordinators, campus police and municipal police now work closely with the District Attorney to ensure that all victims are responded to promptly and effectively. Last spring, the schools worked together to train 100 staff across 10 universities in the Green Dot model of bystander intervention, an evidence-based model to prevent domestic and sexual violence. More information about these activities is available here.
Leadership in addressing campus sexual violence started a decade ago in Westmoreland County, a suburban and rural area east of Pittsburgh. In 2007, Seton Hill University joined Blackburn Center, a local domestic and sexual violence program in Westmoreland County, to form an institutional partnership aimed at addressing the root causes of sexual assault and domestic violence and preventing these crimes. In addition to a range of campus programming, prevention messages are now embedded in curricula and changes are being measured and evaluated by campus researchers. Since then, the program has been institutionalized and expanded to other area schools—the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg joined the effort in 2014, and initial efforts are underway at Saint Vincent College and Westmoreland County Community College. More information about these efforts is available here.
Change starts with leadership from the top. In Southwestern Pennsylvania, college and community leaders are stepping forward in bold new ways to work together with a focus on prevention. The progress we’ve made gives me hope that, one day, students will be able to learn in an environment free from fear of sexual assault. We’re not there yet, but collaborations such as these bring us closer to the day when we will finally end sexual violence.
Kristy Trautmann is the executive director of FISA Foundation, a charitable grantmaking organization devoted to improving the lives of women, girls and people with disabilities in Southwestern Pennsylvania. FISA, along with The Heinz Endowments and United Way of Southwestern PA, founded Southwest PA Says NO MORE, a regional movement to end domestic violence and sexual assault.
Photography by Brian Cohen.