The University of Iowa now has three full-time violence prevention education specialists, which is unique for an institution of its size. The team was made possible thanks to funding from President Sally Mason as part of the university’s Six Point Plan to Combat Sexual Assault.
The funding helped establish a new position at the Women’s Resource and Action Center (WRAC) and increase existing positions at WRAC and the Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP) permanently from part- to full-time.
Khirin Carter started as the new full-time violence prevention specialist at WRAC in February. She joins Meagan Schorr, WRAC’s violence prevention program coordinator, and Susan Junis, RVAP’s university prevention education coordinator, to create a strong team.
In honor of April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), they sat down to discuss the importance of collaboration and creating a culture where sexual violence isn’t tolerated.
How do you feel about having your position increased to full-time thanks to funding committed by President Mason as part of the Six Point Plan?
Meagan Schorr (MS): I think that prior to having three full-time violence prevention folks on campus we were definitely struggling with capacity. Last spring, a lot of conversations were popping up through the support of campus and the community, and there was a need for a lot of this education and prevention efforts to be taking place, but it was really hard to fully engage. It’s wonderful to have our capacity increased to the extent it is now, and I think we really have this awesome opportunity to expand what we’re doing and support the campus and community in ways that we weren’t able to do before.
What is it like now having a collaborative team dedicated to providing comprehensive sexual and interpersonal violence prevention outreach on campus?
Susan Junis (SJ): I think the collaborative nature of our work makes it that much more powerful and that much stronger. We get so much more done and we’re so much more effective when we’re working together. I’ve talked with colleagues on other campuses of a comparable size ,and they’re amazed that we have the system that we have in place here. They’re in a place that I was just a year ago—a half-time person doing education for 30,000 people. That’s just not sustainable, and I think we have a really great model on this campus.
MS: One thing I love about our team is that we all bring different views, knowledge, experiences, and connections to the table to really form this awesome approach to violence prevention. I think that truly makes the work as dynamic as it has been.
What are your backgrounds?
SJ: My background is in social work. So I really look at it from a social justice perspective—how can we create a community that is safe, and healthy, and equitable for everybody.
Khirin Carter (KC): I have a background in sociology and criminology, so I bring my perspective on the theory of crime and the impact that it has on everyone.
MS: My background is in public health, and all of us have extensive experience in community-based work, which is really important because every group you work with has different needs and things that are important to them. So we really strive to do a good job of listening and working with key stakeholders to fine tune and tailor our work to their needs to make things more sustainable and effective.
I’m also amazed at the number of connections I’ve made during the two years I’ve been in this position. Existing relationships are something we all bring to the table and helps make our team really strong.
Why is prevention education so important?
SJ: I think prevention work in a campus setting is unique because in many cases you’re working to dismantle and combat years of socialization. I think it’s really intense work, but really important and necessary work because you have some students coming to campus with 18 years of being told messages that may not be challenging rape culture.
MS: We absolutely need to respond to violence, and response is a big part of our work. But focusing on prevention and having conversations about challenging unhealthy social norms is key to helping reduce violence. It’s important to teach bystander intervention, have ongoing conversations about healthy relationships and rape culture, and really engage people of all genders in this work.
I think the approach we take to engage everybody is sending the message that we’re not saying it’s the responsibility of one group of folks. We come at it from the space that it’s on all of us as a community—people from all identities and walks of life. It’s on all of us to do something to prevent violence in our community and spaces we occupy.
What groups on campus are you working with and what programming are you providing?
MS: There’s a lot going on. We’ve done a lot of work with UI Fraternity and Sorority Life and Athletics in terms of doing workshops and trainings, building partnerships and collaborating. We also work with students on “train the trainer” programs, where we’re training students to become peer opinion leaders to do the work informally and formally.
In addition to that, we partner with faculty on campus who have us come in and help them integrate lessons about violence prevention into their curriculums. We also work with a lot of different organizations on campus like UI Student Health & Wellness, the Office of the Sexual Assault Misconduct Response Coordinator (OSMRC), and UI Air Force ROTC and Army ROTC, as well as many different student groups who invite us to come in to do workshops and work with them on and off throughout the semester. Both WRAC and RVAP also work with interns and practicum students who are interested in different violence prevention opportunities in the community.
KC: We also do open trainings for faculty and staff, as well as bystander trainings in the community, and we’ve worked a lot with UI Residence Education. We also have the Men’s Anti-Violence Council (MAC), which is a group that runs out of WRAC, and hopefully we can expand some work there.
SJ: In addition, we co-facilitate the Raise the Bar program, which is a two-hour training program for staff, management, and owners of alcohol-serving establishments. Participants learn about the dynamics of alcohol-facilitated sexual assault, examine perpetrator behavior, and build staff skills for interrupting sexual harassment or assault in a bar or restaurant setting.
We also meet with parents during the summer orientations. Orientation Services had the great idea to bring RVAP in on these conversations that were already happening, which has been a really incredible opportunity because we view parents as our partners in preventing this.
MS: All incoming students also go through a bystander intervention/sexual assault focused workshop. So we work with all the On IOWA! leaders and captains, and Iowa Edge program peer leaders, and they go through lots of different trainings with us.
What is your message to students? Campus? The community? Parents?
KC: I think for students, it’s important to have conversations with their peers around consent and especially around believing and supporting their friends who may be disclosing to them. And I think we extend a special kind of invitation to faculty and graduate students to add a line in their syllabus or on the first day of classes about, “If you need support, there are these offices that are here for you on campus.” I think they’re really good resources in bridging the gap with the students we may not interact with, and having those conversations around violence prevention.
Also, a special thanks to student and community activists who worked tirelessly to raise awareness about issues related to sexual assault and bring these conversations into public discourse.
MS: To the community, thank you for doing all the good work that you do and for giving us so much support. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep helping to bring these conversations up and encourage folks in all spaces of your life to be engaged in conversations around violence prevention.
To campus, I would say, similarly, stay engaged and please keep supporting us to do this work. And to any campus partners we have now or potential campus partners, we love building those collaborative relationships, and we’re always here to do that.
SJ: Our message to parents is talk to you kids about consent, if possible. Have a conversation with them about the expectation that they should ask for permission before sexual activity occurs. One metaphor we use with parents is to let your kids know that just like you ask for permission to borrow a car, you need to ask for permission when you’re accessing someone’s body. It might be awkward, but if students are hearing that from their parents it’s going to have an impact and make a difference.
Do you think your efforts are making an impact?
SJ: I think some of our biggest successes so far have been with our work on alcohol and sexual assault through the Raise the Bar program. In just the time that I’ve been here, I’ve seen a lot of people make the leap to talking about the way perpetrators use alcohol as a weapon, instead of focusing on potential victims, in a really powerful and really amazing way. Being present to see someone’s ah-ha moment with that is really incredible. We’ve received a lot of feedback and heard a lot of powerful stories about how the training is making a direct difference.
KC: One way I’ve seen an impact is by the way students come up after a training and say, “I had this awesome bystander moment.” They’re also wanting information on how to get involved and they’re following through.
MS: One thing about this work that’s so important is that it’s not a “one and done.” It’s not like we show up and work with a student or group one time. We work really hard and really intentionally to have repeated dosage in different capacities. So maybe it’s a small group workshop for one interaction, but then we have you come into a large group event, and then you’re coming to a summit. Multiple touch points with students, faculty, and staff are important because you have to keep hearing the messages and engaging in these conversations in order for it to really stick.