$300,000 Department of Justice grant to help combat sexual assault at USD
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$300,000 Department of Justice grant to help combat sexual assault at USD

A recently received $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will soon help to combat sexual assault with the It’s On Us campaign at USD.

The grant money will be used to hire a project coordinator, who will be housed in student services under Kim Grieve, the dean of students and vice president of student services, and will coordinate efforts across dozens of different campus organizations including different offices of USD, student organizations and even community organizations.

Assistant professor of criminal justice, Bridget Diamond-Welch, who studies victimology of sexual assault, was instrumental in the obtaining the grant.

“This is the second university that I’ve been a professor at,” Diamond-Welch said. “At my first university, which was Western Illinois University, we had this grant and I was a part of it there. So, when I came here and started working here, I thought that this place really needed the grant, because we have some good stuff going on, but it needs to be added to.”

In 2015, there were three rapes reported on campus, one reported off campus and there were seven forcible sex offenses between 2013-2015, according to the annual USD Fire Safety & Security Report.

The grant formalizes a committee called Coyotes Advocate, Respond and Educate or CARE. CARE, which will be directed by the project coordinator, is responsible for the coordination of the involved organizations.

“One of the missions of CARE is to grow care, meaning that we are trying to bring more and more different involvement and organizations together,” Diamond-Welch said. “So, anyone who would like to get involved in this work should really contact me. We would love to have anyone involved.”

Part of the grant money will be used to pay for programming such as awareness training, Title IX training, bringing in speakers and having panel discussions. Some of the money will also be used to assess the situation at USD.

“We’re going to study what we are currently doing on campus, what the issues are on campus and come up with suggestions for how we can change it,” Diamond-Welch said. “We’re going to assess our programs to see if they are effective. We’re going to assess ourselves as a committee.”

One way those working on the grant will assess the situation at USD is by doing a campus climate survey.

“One of the other things that Board of Regents is looking into, and that is a part of this grant as well is doing a campus climate survey,” Grieve, who was one of the major actors in writing the grant, said. “To really see how students feel the program is going.”

CARE will not only be combating sexual assault, which is “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient” as defined by the Department of Justice, but also what is known as rape culture.

“We’re not just addressing sexual assault. One of the big things we are going to be addressing is rape culture,” Diamond-Welch said. “Rape culture is a term that refers to these attitudes and beliefs that make sexual aggression something that’s acceptable.”

Programs will be put in place that will make people question and challenge any behaviors that support rape culture. Another component of the grant is Coyotes Advocate, Respond and Educate as Men, or Coyotes Are Men. Coyotes Are Men is a group that analyses how different types of masculinity are created, which are conducive to rape culture and how to change and combat these tendencies.

“Coyotes Are Men has to do with masculinity and rape culture, and we’re set to do some events hopefully this fall, and then each semester going onward,” said Tim Flynn, a sophomore at-large Student Government Association senator and one of the SGA representatives for Coyotes Are Men.

“An idea that we’ve proposed, for the Coyotes Are Men group specifically, is a panel after the elections that would be dealing with both Donald Trump and his actions and how it relates to rape culture and masculinity, and we’d have professors and hopefully students as well on there,” he said.

It’s important to the organizers of the grant to recognize that men are also victims of sexual assault, Diamond-Welch said.

“Our grant is very concerned with expressing that men can also be victims,” she said. “So, reaching out and working with male victims is something we want to do, too.”

USD was one of only 45 projects that were funded out of over 90 applicants to the Department of Justice. Welch said it’s important to recognize the value of the grant.

“It’s a great thing we got this and we are going to do some great things, but the more people who want to pitch in and do the work, the better it’s going to be, the more change we can make, the more sexual assaults we can stop from ever happening, and the more people who have been hurt that we can help,” Diamond-Welch said.

Flynn said education the grant will provide is beneficial for USD.

“I think the more face-to-face interaction and learning you can get, the more benefit you’re going to get,” Flynn said. “We have these trainings online for everyone, but when you are just looking at a computer screen, it is a lot less powerful than actually listening to someone who has had an experience or hearing different opinions face-to-face from someone you know.”