Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Combating sexual violence

Grant will support new campus programs

combating sexual violence

In November, Kate Gannon ’16 raised awareness about sexual assault by hanging fact-filled pink shoes from a tree in the Dimple as part of her outrageous acts assignment for her “Introduction to Women’s Studies” class. “I was doing some research and I read a fact, which I put on one of the shoes, that 97 percent of rapists don’t spend a day in jail. That was startling to me and devastating. So I decided to do a piece about victim blaming because women are often blamed for what they are wearing,” she said.

Wheaton 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.

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.”

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.

“We are using scholarship to inform our practices and the research and teaching skills of our faculty to educate students,” Williams stressed, referring to a play that Professor Charlotte 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.