BY ALEXA BINKOWITZ
Sacred Heart University was recently awarded a grant of $300,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) in order to raise awareness and create programs that educate college students about sexual assault, date violence, and domestic violence.
Sacred Heart was the only university in the state of Connecticut to receive the grant this year, and it was also one of 53 universities chosen nationwide.
The university hired Kristen Eschwie, who will be directly enforcing and supporting the programs and initiatives from the grant.
“By taking such proactive steps, Sacred Heart is showing that it cares about its students and will not tolerate these types of actions. As each year progresses and these types of trainings and awareness become more common, I am hoping that the student body will adopt this attitude as well and not only change things here at SHU, but in their home communities as well,” said Eschwie.
The grant will allow Sacred Heart to improve and develop new programs and counseling services that will bring the issue of sexual assault on college campuses to the forefront of conversation.
“Awareness and knowledge is key, and the more we can educate and provide our community this knowledge, resources and support, the hope would be that these incidents will drop in number, but that more people would come forward and feel that they will be supported and heard,” said Leonora Campbell, Sacred Heart’s Title IX Coordinator.
Other goals of the grant focus on the creation of new programs that will educate and encourage college students to speak up and be comfortable talking about the issue of sexual assault on college campuses, whether they have witnessed an issue or have been victims themselves.
According to a study done by The National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men will be victims of sexual assault or sexual violence at some point during their college careers.
In 2016, there were four rapes reported at Sacred Heart, according to the 2017 Campus Crime Report.
“A big part of making this all happen is students engaging in the process and taking an active role in promoting education, awareness and holding their peers accountable,” said Campbell.
“The grant will train around 30-60 student leaders to take on this role and become the advocates and peer support to educating their fellow students and taking a stand on combating these issues and concerns on the Sacred Heart University campus,” she said.
Sacred Heart has had to combat sexual assault issues in the past, one incident being the case of former student Nikki Yovino making headlines across the nation last year.
Yovino accused two former Sacred Heart students, who were also football players, of rape and sexual violence at an off-campus party. Over the course of the original trial, Yovino admitted that her allegations were false, and she made up the story to get another student jealous.
Yovino was then charged with second-degree falsely reporting an incident and fabricating evidence.
Since then, Yovino’s case has been re-opened after she rejected a plea bargain, and there is a trial before a jury set for Feb. 21, 2018.
“I hope all the efforts and education we make available will prevent such incidents from occurring. It would be impossible to know how every student will respond or react to an incident; each case is unique and may have many different issues and concerns,” said Campbell. “But in making this effort to hold all our members of this community accountable and hopefully educating and making everyone aware of their responsibility and role in addressing this, we can only do our best and hope that we are on target and that things will improve overall.”
Some students are happy to hear that the university is taking steps to educate and raise awareness for sexual assault on college campuses.
“I think that it’s very important for college campuses to have these kind of educational programs on sexual assault because it’s become such an issue these days,” said senior Nina Miglio.“It’s a very powerful and meaningful thing to discuss something like this on campus, and we should be doing everything we can to make people feel comfortable and safe while they’re here at SHU.”
The effects of the grant will begin to take place in 2018, and will work to provide insight on how to help victims come forward, how to intervene if students are in an uncomfortable situation, and how to prevent such occurrences from happening in the future.
“As a university we can become a benchmark school that stands out and makes the conscious committed effort in wanting our students who choose to come to SHU feel that it is a safe place and a healthy environment,” said Campbell.