After only one year, Niagara University’s Office of Violence Prevention and Education has established itself as a hub for campuswide violence prevention programming and become a model for other universities to follow.
The OVPE was established last March with a three-year, $300,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women. Since then, director Emily Pike has worked with Dr. Dana Radatz, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, and Dr. Jennifer Beebe, associate professor of counseling/education, to expand on their initiatives and establish new programs for students, faculty, and staff intended to make Monteagle Ridge a safe campus community for everyone.
“The OVPE signifies a commitment to prevention and education efforts on sexual and relationship violence on our college campus,” said Pike.” We hope to lead the way in fostering a cultural shift that results in the next generation of advocates and leaders ensuring a safer campus and local community.”
The office, which is part of the university’s Student Affairs sector, focuses on awareness and prevention of gender-based violence—domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking (DVDVSAS). Programming includes two signature annual events: “Take Back the Night” which aims to end sexual, relationship, and domestic violence in all forms through rallies and marches; and “Living in Light: The Art of Healing,” an exhibit of artwork reflecting the journeys, experiences, hopes, and dreams of the survivors of domestic violence who created them. “Living in Light” is presented in connection with the Red Flag Campaign, a national public awareness initiative designed to encourage college students to intervene when they see a warning sign (“red flag”) of partner violence, and the Clothesline Project, a display of T-shirts made by survivors and those who have lost a loved one to violence.
Among the new initiatives launched this year is Ridge Respect, a pledge of nonviolence and a way that members of the NU community can hold one another accountable for building a safe, inclusive, and supportive culture on campus. The pledge provides a foundation for students to host conversations and avenues to share when something makes them uncomfortable or does not align with the Ridge Respect values. It was integrated into summer and new student orientations, and the athletic department has partnered with the OVPE to host Ridge Respect games, reinforcing the message for students and sharing it with the community.
Recognizing that the time between orientation and winter break—the Red Zone—is when students are most vulnerable to sexual assault, the OVPE instituted education about this high-risk timeframe into orientation, as well.
To ensure that the programs meet the needs of Niagara’s students, the OVPE conducts surveys after events and programs to solicit feedback on what worked and what might be improved. This feedback is taken into consideration in future planning.
“We’re listening to what the students want,” said Beebe. “That’s really important, and that’s why I think the programs are successful, because the students are entrenched in the work and their voices are being heard.”
Changing campus culture requires participation from the entire community and, to that end, the OVPE has formed a Coordinated Community Response Team. This diverse, multidisciplinary group of leaders and stakeholders from on campus and within the community assist and support Pike in actively engaging the faculty and staff, as well as students, in advocating, preventing, and responding to DVDVSAS while promoting positive social change.
Pike has also established relationships with other campus offices to facilitate training for students, faculty, and staff. More than 500 individuals have been trained in programs including Green Dot Bystander Intervention, an evidence-based program that empowers people to be proactive in addressing and preventing power-based personal violence on campus. She has also given presentations in classes and as part of admissions office events, and participated in trainings for new employees. In November, the OVPE partnered with the Student Nurses Association to present a session on SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) training and to emphasize the urgent need for nurses trained in this specialty.
During DVDVSAS-related awareness months, the office has coordinated activities and events to bring attention to the risks of stalking (January), dating violence (February), sexual assault (April), and domestic violence (October).
The OVPE has also sponsored speakers and panels, expanding its work past the campus. Programs have included “Engaging Men in Gender-Based Violence Prevention: The Roles of Law Enforcement, Military and Mental Health Professionals,” “The Impact of Trauma, the Needs of Survivors and Restorative Approaches to Healing,” and “Examining the Gabby Petito Case Through the Lenses of the ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’ and Intimate Partner Homicide.”
Pike, along with Drs. Beebe and Radatz, has continued to strengthen partnerships with local criminal justice and victim service agencies, including the YWCA of the Niagara Frontier, the Child Advocacy Center of Niagara, Pinnacle Community Services, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office Victim Assistance Unit, the Seven Dancers Coalition, and the New York State Police. Pike also serves on Niagara County’s sexual assault response team.
“An essential component to the success of the OVPE and its initiatives is the connections and collaborations we have with community organizations and agencies that address gender-based violence,” said Radatz. “We create a much more successful and positive impact when we all work together on the same unified goal to promote violence prevention and education.”
By establishing a dedicated on-campus office for gender-based violence prevention, efforts can be coordinated and streamlined, and gaps in resources can be identified, according to Radatz. And those efforts can support other violence-prevention efforts, as well.
“All violence is important and should be addressed as such, but there are some that are connected to other things,” she said. “Gender-based violence is so closely tied to other forms of violence that when you address it, you actually can make an impact on other types of violence. We are working to teach, encourage, and show others ways that they can engage in advocacy work, that it matters, and that they can make a difference.”