Thursday, July 18, 2024

LSUS working to prevent sexual violence through federal grant

by BIZ Magazine

SHREVEPORT – LSU Shreveport is in the planning stages of implementing a grant that aims to reduce and prevent sexual violence on campus.

LSUS received $400,000 over a three-year period from the Office of Violence Against Women, which is an arm of the Department of Justice.

The grant will provide funding for additional educational and prevention programming and increase available victim services.

The university was awarded the grant in late 2023 and is nearing the end of the first year of the grant.

“This grant encourages a coordinated campus and community approach that focuses on reducing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking,” said Dr. Paula Atkins, associate vice chancellor for student development and dean of students at LSUS. “The first year of the grant focuses on developing a plan and attending specific training institutes.

“The next two years is the implementation of that plan.”

LSUS is one of 40 campuses and technical assistance providers that were awarded grants in 2023.

People ages 18-24 are the most likely to be victims of sexual violence, and sexual violence is typically the most prevalent crime on college campuses, according to statistics from RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

While LSUS experiences much less crime in general than typical college campuses, Cindy Maggio wants that number to be zero.

“One report is one too many, and we want to prevent any instances,” said Maggio, the Title IX, ADA Coordinator and Equity Officer at LSUS. “Statistics show that sexual violence is often underreported, so we want to do everything we can to protect students, faculty and staff on campus.”

The grant creates a Coordinated Community Response Team, which consists of relevant staff, campus police, students and community providers.

Prevention is the ultimate goal with knowledge and awareness cultivated through consistent messaging and training.

“This age group, whether they are in college or not, is at a higher risk of sexual violence,” Atkins said. “While there are many theories as to why, part of it is moving out of their households for the first time and developing the beginnings of relationships.

“One educational component is raising awareness about how to protect ourselves and how to develop positive, healthy relationships. Campuses encourage a lot of social gatherings and the development of social relationships, especially early in one’s college days, and the risk increases during those times. We have the duty to teach skills that will lead to safe and healthy environments.”

Aside from educational and prevention programming in addition to what LSUS students, faculty and staff already receive under Board of Regents provisions, one key programming piece of the grant will be bystander intervention.

Bystander intervention is training that focuses on what witnesses or other third parties can do to seek help or directly step in to stop instances of sexual violence. This type of training creates a campus culture in which all students, faculty and staff take ownership in providing a healthy campus environment.

“Bystander intervention training teaches how to intervene in the most appropriate manner that’s both safe for the bystander and helpful to the situation,” said Halle Gripka, the grant project director. “We want to teach skills to recognize when a friend or perhaps a student themselves are in an unhealthy relationship.

“We’re also connecting students to resources here on campus as well as resources in the community.”

Campus resources include LSUS police, LSUS Counseling Services, and the Title IX and Equity office.

One specific community partner for LSUS is Project Celebration Inc., a nonprofit organization in Northwest Louisiana that provides direct services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Part of the grant’s first-year training includes staff and campus police learning about “trauma-informed” responses and best practices for treating victims of sexual violence with sensitivity and respect.

“We have a duty to create a safe, positive environment for students that are learning to become an adult,” Atkins said. “We are actively engaging our students so they learn the skills to take care of themselves and others.”

“This grant provides an excellent opportunity to build upon the foundational training we already provide so that our campus community is in a better position to prevent these incidents from happening and strengthening our services to victims.”

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