Taking the lead
GV receives grant to help prevent sexual assault
GVL / Luke Holmes - Women's Center Director Jessica Jennrich (right) speaks to faculty inside of the Women's Center on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016.
Within the last year, Grand Valley State University has seen an alarming increase in reports of sexual assaults near campus prompting response at an administrative, community and national level. In order to help combat the threat of sexual violence on campus, GVSU will be utilizing $33,454 in state grant funds as part of the Michigan State Police (MSP) Campus Sexual Assault Grant Program.
More than 29 applications were received for the grant and 18 community colleges and universities in Michigan were awarded funds.
The initiatives of the grant will begin this semester. At GVSU, the grant will establish a peer education program for bystander intervention training and will provide students with the opportunity to become a peer mentor. Additionally, the grant will provide increased trainings using active bystander intervention methods, as well as through media campaigns looking toward the fall of 2017. An active bystander is someone who not only witnesses a situation, but takes steps to speak up or step in to keep a situation from escalating or to disrupt a problematic situation, an idea that the university wants to promote at all levels.
The Women’s Center worked in conjunction with the Title IX Office and the Office of Sponsored Projects to write and submit the grant said Jessica Jennrich, director of the Women's Center.
"These types of grants are important at all colleges and universities," Jennrich said. "GVSU is a particularly good location for a peer education program devoted to bystander intervention as it has become a part of Laker culture to be an active bystander- this grant teaches students how to do that with more depth."
This grant is offered by Governor Snyder’s office in conjunction with their now second Sexual Assault Summit announced in September. It is hoped that by educating the community on what it means to be an active bystander, the community can work together to prevent sexual assault Jennrich said.
"This grant is focused on sexual assault prevention, and as a result, it is always our hope that prevention will result in fewer incidences of sexual violence," Jennrich said.
In order to help the grant gain traction on campus, Krystal Diehl was hired as the graduate assistant for the Michigan State Police (MSP) Campus Sexual Assault Grant Program at GVSU. In this position she is responsible for recruiting peer educators to work with the GVSU community and promoting active bystander training within different student organizations, athletic departments and the community.
Diehl's interest in promoting active bystanders started during her undergraduate degree program. As an undergrad, she worked answering phones for a survivor of sexual assault support line where she got to talk with people and help them through whatever they were going through. After graduation, Diehl wants to become a counselor so the work with this grant will help her be a better professional in the future as well.
Any students are welcome and encouraged to apply to be peer educators Diehl said.
"Sometimes, messages resonate more with people when it comes from a peer," she said. "We would love to have anyone apply so that we can get our message out to all departments."
While the Women’s Center and Victim Advocate, Ashley Schulte, work with GVPD frequently they are not a direct partner in this grant. However, GVPD also encourages the importance of the role of an active bystander. In the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, captain Brandon DeHaan of the GVPD has included the definition of what and active bystander is.
"It's important that we look out for each other as a community and put a value on educating the community as well," DeHaan said. "I'm excited to see what the Women's Center will do with this grant."
The grant also includes starting education about healthy relationships and being an active bystander at an early age such as high school students.
"We will be working with community partners in the Allendale Public School District to provide training around both consent and bystander intervention in the hope that we can educate younger populations of students about these important issues prior to them entering colleges and universities," Jennrich said.
It is not clear whether this grant will be offered annually and the Women's Center has yet to discuss plans for next year.