Chatham receives $300,000 grant for sexual assault prevention programs

The 'It’s on Us' Pennsylvania program through Gov. Tom Wolf’s office awarded up to $300,000 to 36 higher education institutions for the prevention of sexual assault.

Chatham receives $300,000 grant for sexual assault prevention programs

Gena Carter

Chatham University received for the second consecutive year a $30,000 grant from the It’s on Us PA Program, an initiative that aims to prevent gender- and sexual-based violence. 

This year, Chatham’s grant will fund a variety of student-lead projects, as well as faculty-organized events and prevention measures. Student initiatives will include the Chatham Masculinities Project, the Sexual Respect Committee and other awareness events. The grant also funds training of employees for Title IX, the campus Green Dot initiative, a campus climate study and the presentation of “Sex Signals” during first-year orientation.

Green Dot is a Pennsylvania Council for Higher Education initiative that aims to “increase [proactive and reactive] bystander behaviors around personal-power based violence,” Dean of Students Heather Black said.

This violence does not necessarily have to be physical; under the Green Dot program, any action that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm to another is considered violence.

Each positive proactive and reactive measure against gender- and sexual-based violence is imagined as a green dot on Chatham’s campus. The goal is that through education, training and practice, the campus climate can shift to prevent instances of violence (or red dots) from occurring.

At Chatham, “35% of faculty have gone through Green Dot training, and by the end of the semester, it is expected that 150 students will have gone through training,” Dean Black said. Currently, training is optional, but it may be something all first-year SDE classes undergo in the future.

This year’s funds also will be used to hold a town hall for a campus climate study on sexual- and gender-based violence, which aims to address rape culture on campus. The survey will be anonymous and is expected to be piloted in the fall.

Last year, some of the grant’s funds went toward a climate survey. 

“It is important that we understand what the campus climate is, before we can attempt to shift it, “ said Dr. Jessie Ramey, Director of Chatham University’s Women’s Institute.

Dr. Jessie Ramey

The climate survey will ask students about their experience with gender and sexual-based violence and will target behaviors that normalize rape culture, such as “locker room talk” and sexist graffiti.

“If you have a campus climate where [those actions and behaviors] are not acceptable … you will prevent a substantial number of gender- and sexual-based violence [instances],” Dr. Ramey said. “One program alone can’t do it.”

Grace Mincarelli ‘21, a social work major, began working on the climate survey over the summer with Dr. Ramey.

We hope the survey shows us what improvements we can make to prevent and address any harmful behaviors at Chatham,” Mincarelli said. “All students deserve an inclusive and safe college experience.”

There is a misconception among individuals that gender and sexual violence has nothing to do with them, or that there is little that an individual can do to combat violence. But, as people increase their awareness and knowledge, some of the more harmful effects of rape culture can be confronted. 

“It’s all about power … this [is] a system we are all apart of,” Dr. Ramey said. “It oppresses and harms over half the population … [and] it is intimately connected with other systems of power, including race.”

“Statistically, college students are at high risk of experiencing sexual violence, especially those with traditionally marginalized identities, [such as] women, trans/non-binary students, students of color,” Mincarelli added. “I think it’s really important to address the kinds of harm and discrimination occurring on campus.”

Last year, some of the initiatives the It’s On Us PA Grant funded included Green Dot training, greening-out the dining hall, It’s On US Week of Action, A Shot of Reality (an interactive alcohol awareness program), salary for students working on the climate study, supportive policies for trans-identifying students, and supported programs in athletics such as “Coaching Boys into Men.”

It is not a given that schools will receive the grant again if they have previously qualified. 

“The application process is very thorough,” Dean Black said. It is a state-wide competition that requires schools to submit a formal proposal and a detailed budget. This year, the state has awarded University of Pittsburgh, Point Park University and CCAC grant money, as well.

If students would like to get more involved to join campus initiatives to combat gender and sexual violence, they are encouraged to attend open meetings of the Sexual Respect Committee or take part in the Chatham Masculinities project.