The coordinator of the Campus Safety Project, Clara Porter, is worried that the project will be threatened following the end of its 3-year grant funding at the close of the semester.
“I’m concerned about the continuity of the project given all of these circumstances,” said Porter. “When you make changes fast and they have such positive results, you have to keep in mind that they can go away fast, too.”
The Campus Safety Project is funded by a $300,000 grant from the Department of Justice via the Violence Against Women Act. The project has been divided over a three year period, making the annual budget for the project $100,000. With the end of the project’s funding from the grant at the end of this school year, Porter will step down from her position, leaving the reins to the steering committee that is comprised of multiple department heads within the Division of Human Resources.
Porter’s concern is that the faculty that makes up the committee is already involved with busy jobs within their own departments, and this could cause unfavorable effects on the project.
“The project has so many pieces,” said Porter, “and all of them will have to be overseen by a group of people instead of a coordinator that students can go to throughout the day, and that is a concern.”
According to Porter, potential loss of funding would only hinder the progress USM has made in handling reports of sexual abuse on campus. Since the project has been introduced to USM, Porter said the number of reported sexual assaults has risen, a fact that Porter attributes to the project’s campaigns around campus to generate student awareness about sexual assault and healthy relationships.
“It’s not that there have been more sexual assaults or domestic abuse,” Porter explained, “students have just had the opportunity to voice what has happened to them in a safe environment. We’ve had many positive results with helping students by bridging this gap.”
The university’s Clery Act report states that in the 2009 calendar year there were three reported forcible sex acts on the Gorham campus. In the 2011 calendar year, however, after the Campus Safety Project had been established, the number of reported acts of forcible sex increased to 10.
Maria Sedler, a senior anthropology major, agrees with Porter about bridging the gap with students. Sedler said that before she transferred from University of Maine at Farmington she worked in the program Sexual Assault and Violence Emergency Services. Her job was to work with spreadsheets by recording data from the sexual abuse hotline.
“I recorded a lot of incidents,” said Sedler. “Consent education is huge, and these are vital services. Knowing what constitutes sexual assault is a large component of educating victims, along with communities, that the only person responsible for sexual assault is the perpetrator.”
Porter said the parts of the Campus Safety Project that have been institutionalized are what has contributed to the success of the program. Cases for sexual assaults are heard before a judicial board from the university. In order for anyone to become a part of the judicial board to hear sexual abuse cases, they need to go through an extensive training process.
“Before the institutionalized training, more assault cases were lost, and after the training, more cases were won. It’s a big change in such a short amount of time.”
The Campus Safety Project pamphlet distributed to the faculty says employees must respond, refer and report any assaults or abuse told to them by students. Employees are encouraged to listen to any student reporting sexual abuse without judgement and connect them to support services within the university. They must help the student find confidential support from university services and report the facts of the abuse to the Deputy Title IX Coordinator, Joy Pufhal.
Porter said that if the university does not obtain the grant they have applied for, then the school will lose a large number of counselors and advocates who help with spreading awareness about sexual abuse and provide counseling for victims.
“If anything I think the program has to be increased,” said Sedler when asked about the possible lack of grant funding for next year. “When students feel vulnerable they need a safe place to go and the university should continue to help provide for them. There cannot be enough emphasis on safe sex and healthy relationships.”
“You can make a lot of positive changes in three years,” said Porter, “which makes it that much more important for the continuation of spreading sexual awareness.”
Porter remains positive despite these concerns. She has faith in the ability of the programs that Campus Safety produces, especially Consent Day and the healthy relationship agendas — the programs that give away glow-in-the-dark t-shirts and date night condom packs.