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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell Advocates

Over the last few weeks, the Domestic Violence Alternatives and Sexual Assault Center (DVA/SAC) trained students and staff on campus to talk about sexual assault at Grinnell. The program, as well as the education, will be growing and evolving as communication between students, advocates, and DVA/SAC continues.

Photograph by Avery Rowlison

The program started about seven years ago in 2005. It was founded as a peer advocacy program by a recent alum who worked as a Grinnell Core fellow in DVA/SAC Marshalltown and by current students. They saw the need to have something specifically for on-campus assaults and abuse. DVA/SAC trained faculty, staff and students as on-campus advocates. What was not in the students’ proposal, however, was for them also to be able to be advocate for the four counties in which DVA/SAC operated. However, this was the only way that DVA/SAC trained. Thus, the advocates for campus also included the four county area, which included some restrictions.

“The student advocates wanted for students on campus to be able to know who they were, have a website, and do education in order to be totally accessible. We were forbidden for those first six-plus years to have any kind of publicity, any kind of open education, or to have the advocates named in any public way,” said Dean of Religious Life Deana Shorb. “What has happened is that we have noted being anonymous isn’t really working for us anymore. We’re at a point on campus that we need a really active, engaged, and known group of peer advocates.”

Shorb and Susan Sanning, Community Service Coordinator, found out that it is possible, within the legal bounds of Iowa, to have an advocate group that is known and that serves the campus specifically. That is what students had expressed interest in for the education, for improving students’ experience on campus, and all of those pieces of being an advocate. The Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA) in association with DVA/SAC came out and did some training with the 15 student advocates that were already trained for specifically campus-based advocacy.

“Last week we weren’t sure that we would be able to continue our relationship with DVA/SAC, but we had a meeting with them in their offices, and it looks like we’re going to be able to negotiate to work together,” said Shorb.

The biggest changes that have taken place are that the advocates will be known publicly and the training will be Grinnell College campus specific. The advocates are still trained to answer calls and deal with situations in the four county areas. They also are trained how to advocate for victims in the legal system and go to court with victims if necessary. What is being worked out and discussed at the moment is how the Grinnell advocates will be able to take this training and apply it specifically to the Grinnell College campus.

“We will determine what this program is going to look like and how it is going to work with DVA/SAC, as in what pieces will they have ‘veto’ power over, so to speak, and pieces we will maintain control of, as the conversations and communication continue,” said Sanning. “We will also be listening to students on campus to see what they think we need for the program, which will be key.”

They are working with RLCs, because Grinnell has a transparency group that is looking at campus climate issues around sexual assault transparency for faculty, staff, and students. The listening sessions will be in order to involve the advocates along with listening to what is said and deciding how they can then address the issues that are seen arising throughout the student body. There will be several listening sessions and will hopefully be an ongoing process starting where the students feel the group of advocates is most needed.

“First, we’d like to take the pulse of the campus in addition to the 15 advocates who we’ve been talking to, so that we can have diverse voices telling us what they think has been going on,” Shorb said. “What students have shared so far was not surprising to us. We’ve certainly heard in the counseling and advocacy that we do, that acquaintance abuse and assault as well as date rape is taking place on campus.”

On Monday, Feb. 20, the Grinnell advocates will be having a conversation and listening session for students interested in sharing their ideas about the new program. Everyone is invited and encouraged to attend and contribute.

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