by Taylor Smallwood
Juniata College received a U.S. Department of Justice grant, which has brought several changes to the campus, including the new Office for Violence Prevention and a Director of Violence Prevention.
The Department of Justice grant requires Juniata to hire a full-time project coordinator or grant director. The candidates for the Director of Violence Prevention position gave public presentations, and Jody Althouse was hired by Juniata College on Jan. 19.
“It’s just a great idea because you need someone who’s really on top of that and really focused on it, and Jody’s done a great job of reaching out to people, meeting people, and pulling people together, so we’re really fortunate to have her,” said Dan Cook-Huffman, interim dean of students.
The search committee for this position was composed of administration, faculty, staff and students. “Juniata is really big on having students involved in search processes, and I have been really been involved in Title IX on campus, so I was really excited to be asked to do this.” said senior Lauren Lesser, who was a part of the search committee. “It was just a nice opportunity to be able to really put a face to the candidates that they were bringing in and having a say on what we thought would work and what we thought wouldn’t, and what we were impressed by.”
Jody Althouse was chosen as the director of violence prevention because of her experience, presentation skills and enthusiasm. “We couldn’t be more delighted. She’s got great experience with pulling people together in the community,” said Cook-Huffman.
Althouse will coordinate with the internal and external partners and improve the college campus regarding issues of domestic or sexual violence. She will also act as a confidential counselor. “I’m considered a confidential person, so I don’t do any reporting,” said Althouse. “So anyone who comes to me and shares with me, it stays with me. I’m here to offer resources. If they want to make a connection, I’ll help them make that connection. But I’m just here to listen and give them resources so they can make a change if they choose to do so.”
“She is working very hard to keep it very student-focused and to invite students into the conversation. It’s not about us teaching students, it’s about us providing some space and the resources to empower students to own this and to own their own lives, and to help change the culture so that we don’t have this kind of violence on our campus,” said Cook-Huffman.
Althouse plans to make changes by first asking students what they want and need from the Office of Violence Prevention. “I can’t come in and say ‘you need to make this change.’ I need to come in and listen, and people need to tell me the changes they feel need to be made. What I’ve heard so far from students is that they want more clarity on policies and procedures,” said Althouse.
Posters were placed outside of the Office of Violence Prevention for students to give their opinions on when the office should be open, what it should be called and other aspects of the office. “By putting the posters up, it shows how much Jody really values what students have to say about the future of violence prevention here at Juniata,” said freshman Julia Smith.
Some students were also invited to participate focus groups. “It was really cool because she was really open to hearing our ideas and getting to know the school better through students,” said Lesser.
Many students reported that they do not know what to do in the event of an assault, violent incident or stalking. “They want to know who to go to, who is confidential and who is going to report it. They just want to know all of their options in a very clear way. I’ve heard that the most from people, so I think that’s where we’re going to start,” said Althouse.
“I’ve never felt unsafe on Juniata’s campus, but I, especially in the past year, have felt that we don’t do as much as we can to promote safety and education behind it,” said Lesser. “I think bringing those people in and having a safe-haven will even just make reporting easier, because Jody knows the process and is going to help educate someone who is going through something. That just makes me feel safer too to know that there is someone that you can go to talk to if there’s a situation on campus.”
The Office of Violence Prevention is located in Ellis Hall. It is a three-room suite, which includes Althouse’s office, an office for student assistants and external partners to hold office hours and a student room. “(The student room) is going to be a safe space for you to hang out. We’re hoping to make that space open 24 hours,” said Althouse. “Just a place where you can come and do homework, and realize that if you needed to talk about something you could and know that it’s not going to go anywhere else.”
“It’s for everybody who wants to stop in and chat about anything. It’s a place where if you just don’t feel like you’re fitting it, maybe this is your place where you can fit in. There’s no victim-blaming,” said Althouse.
Some of the changes taking place are a result of a climate survey issued during the last academic year. Juniata College’s results were close to its peer and aspirant schools. “We don’t want to pat ourselves on the back too much and say ‘that’s great’ because as long as there’s one person who’s involved in a violent relationship or one person who’s being stalked, or one person who’s been the victim of sexual assault, that’s too many. We need to keep working at it,” said Cook-Huffman.
“While there is a strong and wide-held sense that it’s a relatively safe, supportive, wonderful community, we have our fair share of issues on these things, and domestic violence and sexual assault do happen on our campus,” said Cook-Huffman.
The climate survey results will soon be communicated to the campus. “We’re just in the midst of all the changes in the Dean of Students Office and with Jody just coming on new…we haven’t quite developed that communication to where we want it to be, but it’s coming soon so that people have a sense of how that survey really turned out and what we intend to do to address it,” said Cook-Huffman.
Additional changes that will come from the grant include: making reporting more accessible, adopting additional software for reporting, having more education and training from external partners like Huntingdon House and the Abuse Network, training more Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners at J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital and improving policies and procedures.
“We are very excited about this opportunity to help Juniata students become more aware and become more empowered on these issues so that we can minimize, reduce, eradicate eventually, the incidents of violence, sexual assault and harassment, and stalking and dating violence that do happen, unfortunately, on our campus,” said Cook-Huffman.
Categories: Volume 97 Issue 7 News