ETSU Women’s Studies receives Avon Foundation grant to combat gender violence

Contributed To The Press • Dec 17, 2016 at 6:38 PM

East Tennessee State University’s Women’s Studies Program has received a $10,000 grant from the Avon Foundation for Women to participate in the first National Leadership Institute: Changing the Narrative on Campus Gender-Based Violence.

Through this grant, ETSU will be among just 20 schools participating in this comprehensive, action-oriented leadership program to develop and implement action plans to prevent and respond to sexual assault. Together, these schools will form a growing learning community committed to ending gender-based violence on school campuses.

“The Avon Foundation has funded campus-based campaigns and bystander intervention initiatives for more than five years to help change behaviors around sexual assault,” said Christine Jaworsky, Avon Foundation program director. “We want to inspire and empower others to be a part of the solution.

“We see the National Leadership Institute as an innovative opportunity for students and schools to take the lead in shifting the conversation around gender-based violence in the campus setting, but also in the broader dialogue around sexual and domestic violence in our society.”

The first institute was held in Boston from Oct. 25-26 with 10 colleges and universities. This will be followed by the second cohort of 10 schools in Atlanta from Nov. 30-Dec. 1. Each school sends a multi-disciplinary team of five to six representatives, including administrators, security and service providers, Title IX personnel and student leaders.

During each institute, participants learn and share best practices on how to respond, using a trauma-informed lens, when an assault occurs. At the end of the two-day institute, each school will have a sexual assault prevention and response action plan, which they will be supported to implement over the course of a year.

“We’re very proud to partner with the Avon Foundation for Women, Harvard Law School’s Gender Violence Program, and the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education on this National Leadership Institute to train multi-disciplinary school teams to take the lead and work collaboratively to end gender-based violence on their campuses,” said Lonna Davis, program leader for Futures Without Violence. “There were over 70 schools who applied to be part of the program, so we know there is an immediate need and desire to find and implement solutions.”

“We are delighted that the Avon Foundation for Women has chosen our program,” said Dr. Phyllis Thompson, director of Women’s Studies at ETSU. “This grant will allow us to build on and sustain the important work the university is already doing in this area.

“This is an opportunity for ETSU to construct a program that is grounded in the latest, best practice methods for sexual assault prevention and trauma-informed response. We are very proud to be able to serve our 14,000-plus student body population in such an important way.”

ETSU representatives who will formulate and implement a sexual assault prevention and response plan for the campus community through this Avon Foundation grant include Mary Jordan, special assistant to the president for Equity and Diversity and the university’s Title IX officer; Dr. Michelle Byrd, assistant dean of students; Kate Emmerich, counselor and program coordinator of OASIS (Outreach and Awareness: Sexuality Information for Students) in the Counseling Center; Sgt. Amanda Worley of the Department of Public Safety, who is the Tennessee state director of the RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) Program; Troy Perdue, deputy university counsel; Keyana Miller, Student Government Association (SGA) parliamentarian and diversity educator; Nathan Farnor, SGA vice president; Heidi Marsh, Women’s Studies executive aide, and Thompson.

“While we do not yet know what the program’s design will be,” Thompson says, “we do know that it will be based on the concept of ‘trauma-informed care’ in response to sexual assault.

“Trauma-informed care starts by believing the victim. If somebody comes to me and asks how to help someone who says, ‘I’ve been sexually assaulted,’ the first thing I say is to start by believing that person. Say, ‘I believe you.’ Research shows that just that one thing will help the victim’s healing process, as opposed to negative feedback, which will diminish the victim and make the healing process longer.”

Thompson explained that trauma-informed care includes showing sensitivity to the victim and helping her or him get the help needed through mental health and medical care, and, if the victim wants to report, law enforcement.

“That’s creating a culture on campus that lets women and men who are sexually assaulted know that this is a campus that cares and will respond in healing ways,” she said. “This is a campus that is willing to be transparent in the name of health and healing.”

For more information, contact Thompson at 423-439-4125 or [email protected]. Additional information on the Avon Foundation for Women is available at www.avonfoundation.org.

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