Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Building a safe community

Grants support ongoing efforts to prevent sexual and gender-based violence

Courtney Ruggles, coordinator of the Sexual Misconduct and Assault Resource Team, provides information. (Photo by Sandy Coleman)

Wheaton received two grants in fall 2016 aimed at continuing to make the campus a safe, inclusive place for all genders—including a second three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that will enable the community to expand its efforts to prevent sexual and gender-based violence.

The first grant, a $10,000 award from the Avon Foundation for Women, included an invitation for Wheaton representatives to attend the National Leadership Institute: Changing the Narrative on Campus Gender-Based Violence, a conference held in Boston in October 2016.

“We were able to learn and revisit key concepts around the intersection of interpersonal violence and campus communities,” Courtney Ruggles, coordinator of Wheaton’s Sexual Misconduct and Assault Resource Team, said of the conference. “We were given time to work as a group to develop an action plan for our campus as well as to network with nine other area schools and share ideas, successes and questions.”

The second award is a $300,000 Campus Program Grant from the DOJ Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). A continuation grant, it will expand on work begun with the first OVW grant Wheaton received in 2012.

“Receiving this grant for the second time means that the Justice Department OVW has confidence in our ability to continue to grow and develop our programs and initiatives on campus,” said Kate Kenny, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “It is a testament to the hard work, dedication and quality of what we have created thus far with grant funding.”

The continuation grant comes several months after Wheaton reached a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice on a Title IX investigation and compliance review of the college. The resolution of the yearlong review required the college to revise policies and practices, including educational and training programs that it offers to faculty and staff.

The department commended the college for its work in responding to the review as well as its “work to foster a safe and healthy campus environment where all students can achieve their full potential.”

The first OVW grant enabled Wheaton to provide new programs around the prevention of sexual and gender-based misconduct, such as establishing an annual Consent Day, and to strengthen the college’s partnerships with the Norton Police Department and New Hope Inc., Kenny said.

The initial grant also supported academic programs—in particular, a theater class taught by Professor of English and Playwright-in-Residence Charlotte Meehan that opened up dialogue among students on sexual assault, sex on a college campus and related topics using improvisation and other techniques.

The work in that class led Meehan to write a script for a play titled What Happens When, which the Theatre and Dance Studies Department produced in the spring of 2015. The play also has been made available to other institutions that are looking for new ways to address sexual violence.

With the continuation of the OVW grant, Associate Professor of Theater Stephanie Daniels also is focusing on sexual assault and prevention and bystander intervention in her “Theatre and Social Change” class.

These grants also will support continued development of a student men’s group on campus focused on healthy masculinity and violence prevention, said Brandon White, associate dean of students and director of student conduct.