Search for full-time GVSU victim advocate underway

By Devin Dely | 2/22/18 3:16am

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GVL / Luke Holmes - President T. Haas introduces the keynote speaker in the Fieldhouse Arena on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In a recent email sent to students, Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas announced a number of reviews and changes being made by the university to improve safety and address sexual assault on campus. Among these efforts was an announcement that GVSU is searching for a new full-time victim advocate.

“I am proud that we are a campus that values and maintains open communication, transparency, and builds strong relationships across administrative and academic units,” Haas wrote in the email. “This culture of transparency and accountability will not be deterred.”

The search began last fall following the departure of Ashley Schulte, who held the position until September. The search committee is being headed by Marlene Kowalski-Braun,  assistant vice president for inclusion and student affairs, and Jessica Jennrich, director of the Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity. 

Jennrich, whose job on the committee is to help coordinate the search and conduct policy review throughout, said the search has been treated with the utmost importance by GVSU.

“(The university) realized it’s an absolute priority and that it can’t wait,” she said. “It’s very common when a position is vacant to take a few months and evaluate it before filling it. In this case, President Haas decided we would just go ahead and fill this position rather than continue the long process that we were in the middle of.” 

According to Jesse Bernal, vice president for inclusion and equity, the process of finding a new advocate has given the university an opportunity to review some of its sexual assault policies and take a closer look at the future of victim advocacy at GVSU. 

“When Ashley left and took a job at Ferris (State) last semester, we worked internally to examine the work we’ve been doing for victim survivor services," he said. "It was a really good opportunity for us to pause and think about how we want to move forward with this role."

Despite sexual assaults on and near campus last semester, as well as an incident last year involving a former student senator’s controversial comments about the existence of rape culture, Jennrich hopes students continue to use the services offered to them on campus.

“Speaking in generalities, I think since the fall, there’s been about 55 people that have utilized the victim advocacy services that I know of, for a multitude of reasons,” Jennrich said.

Victim advocacy is a concept that may be unfamiliar to many, even those who may need it. Bernal hopes students will not be deterred by their confusion about its purpose and will not afraid to use it if they need to. 

“Advocate is an interesting word for this position,” Bernal said. “I think that piece refers to the awareness-building of the position. Then, there’s the support piece, actually connecting with an individual who has experienced sexual violence at any point in their life, and that’s a distinction we make here. It’s not just about things that have happened on campus.” 

Jennrich offered her thoughts on the responsibilities of the position as well. 

“The services a victim advocate provides can be anything from talking through options after experiencing gender-based violence—whether that is a recent experience or something that happened a long time ago—to giving them info about Title IX, going with them to a police station or helping them find a nurse,” she said. “We’re victim-centered, which means we allow our victim survivors to kind of drive the process and tell us what they need. We try to de-stress the situation for them.”

The search committee members will likely take some time before they come to a decision. In the meantime, there is still a part-time victim advocate available to students.

“I just want folks to know there are people who are committed to this work,” Bernal said. 

Students can find more information about victim advocacy at www.gvsu.edu/vro or by stopping by the Center for Women and Gender Equity in the Kirkhof Center.  

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