Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College

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Combating sexual violence

Grant will support new campus programs

Wheaton College has won a three-year, $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to develop programming aimed at combating sexual violence on campus. In partnership with the Norton Police Department and New Hope, a sexual violence crisis center in Attleboro, the college intends to create a comprehensive community-based model that can be shared nationally.

Dean Lee Burdette Williams

Lee Williams, Dean of Students

The grant from the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women will support “a continuum of programming that will convey a consistent message that violence against women is not tolerated” at Wheaton, according to the college’s grant proposal. Rather than focusing solely on perpetrators and victims, the program will stress the notion that “every community member has a role to play in combating sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.”

Wheaton was one of 22 institutions awarded a grant from among 110 applicants.

In launching these efforts, Wheaton is taking a strong stand against a problem that is widespread on college campuses. A report by the National Institute of Justice estimates that some 20 to 25 percent of female students experience a sexual assault during their college years.

The new programming will “change the whole conversation at Wheaton,” said Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Lee Burdette Williams, who will serve as project director. “We have already become much more transparent in our policies and practices and more responsive to inquiries and concerns. This work is about changing a culture, common on college campuses, that keeps too many victims silent about their experiences. Every year, that culture must be addressed as a new class comes in with their own experiences and perspectives.”

Professors Gabriela Torres (left) and Kersti Yllo

The grant proposal grew out of the work of the Sexual (Mis)Conduct Assembly, a group that was launched in 2010 in response to student concerns about how the college responded to cases of alleged sexual assault. In January 2011, the assembly presented its recommendations, and Wheaton has since implemented several programs aimed at reducing sexual misconduct on campus.

For instance, the Sexual Misconduct and Assault Resource Team (SMART), oversees campus outreach and education efforts related to sexual assault. The college has hired a SMART coordinator and has created a Sexual Misconduct Hearing Board, distinct from the College Hearing Board, to adjudicate incidents related to sexual misconduct.

The grant-funded program will further advance these efforts with components such as:

  • Further development of Wheaton’s mandatory prevention-and-education program for new students, which was introduced last year.
  • A bystander intervention program to educate students on taking action to prevent sexual violence. This will be developed in collaboration with the nationally respected Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Program at Northeastern University.
  • Playwright and professor of English Charlotte Meehan will teach a student workshop to write an ensemble-based play that addresses sexual violence. The interactive play will be a teaching tool that is replicable in the future.
  • Joint training for Wheaton’s public safety staff and Norton Police officers. Public Safety Director Charles Furgal and Norton Police Chief Brian Clark will lead a session on response protocols, and staff from New Hope will lead training on the many complex aspects of sexual violence cases.
  • SMART and New Hope will work together to provide training for residential life staff, preceptors and members of the campus community who wish to serve as advocates.

“We are using scholarship to inform our practices and the research and teaching skills of our faculty to educate students,” Williams stressed, referring to the play that Meehan and students will write as well as a seminar on violence against women, taught by sociology professors Kersti Yllo and Gabriela Torres.

Over the next three years, staff members involved in these efforts will travel to national conferences and other campuses to share the model with others doing similar work.