The Campus Safety Project has kicked off the fall semester with hopes of reaching out to students and the community of USM, even though the program faced management challenges after last year’s grant ran out and they were unable to secure funding. The change resulted in the loss of project coordinator Clara Porter.
Despite that loss, at the end of last spring, students and faculty have stepped up to plate this year to make sure it remains a success within the university, and its co-chairs are starting off the year by tabling in the Wishcamper Center to help promote awareness about domestic violence in relationships.
When Porter was still in charge, she was anticipating the arrival of grant funding to help keep the project alive, even in the face of her approaching unemployment.
“The project has so many pieces”, said Porter, in an interview last spring before her contract expired. “All of the pieces 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.”
The project was able to secure the grant from the federal government, in the amount of $300,000 for three years of funding. Director of the school of social work and women and gender studies Professor Susan Fineran and Jean Bessette, a research associate at the Muskie school applied for another grant from the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice. “We were fortunate to be selected a second time,” Fineran said.
The grant, which began funding the program on Oct. 1, will be used differently from the previous one. Since the grant came to USM significantly after the loss of Clara Porter at the end of the last grant, USM was unable to hire Porter back, Fineran said. Rather than replace her with another program coordinator, she said that the program intended to hire a project assistant, whose job would be much less hands-on, and spend more of the grant money on programs on campus, such as victim services and prevention education training.
One of the current co-chairs of the project is Sarah Holmes, assistant director of the Portland Student Life center and the Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity. She said that she is relieved to know that the project received the grant funding, and it went into effect on Oct. 1. Holmes’s fellow co-chair of the committee is Lee Anne Dodge, the assistant director of Student Life in Gorham.
“It’s hard to manage the project without a coordinator,” said Holmes. “Lee Anne and I are already working with busy schedules and have a lot of pieces to our jobs. The project is another piece added on top.”
Holmes said that the loss of Porter has been a challenge. The project does not have a coordinator to help maintain the programs that are put on around all of USM’s campuses. Instead, it is now being run by a committee made up of students, university counselors and community advocates from Family Crisis Services and Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, a nonprofit organization.
“The project needed to continue,” Holmes said, “because we have to help ensure students are educated about healthy relationships, domestic violence and sexual assaults, and that they have a safe place to go when they are in need.”
Liz Bilodeau, a senior social work major, is an intern for the Campus Safety Project. She explained that Porter left files for different programs and community resources for the new coordinators to reference and work with for events they host this year.
“For the programs we are putting on this year,” Bilodeau said, “we are taking ideas from last year and trying them out this year to see if they have the same effect on the student body.”
However, Bilodeau said that for this year they are left with some rough patches in the management of the program, and are still trying to figure out what roles students and faculty of the committee will play.
Holmes said that the community advocates and resources, like Family Crisis Services, helps the project achieve its goals of keeping students safe and aware about interrelational and sexual issues.
“A lot of people are happy the project has continued,” said Bilodeau. “I know several people who were afraid that it would be gone once Clara left.”
The main location for the project is on the Portland campus at the Wellness Center, commonly referred to as “the Well” in the Woodbury Campus Center, but it is branching out to the Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn campuses. Holmes said that the project is using different themes every month to focus on domestic and sexual issues, in the same vein as the established spotlight on sexual assault awareness in April. “Hopefully it will contribute to making the university a safer environment for students, faculty and staff,” Fineran said.