Concord College Leads State Institutions in Sexual Assault Education Programs
Athens, W.Va. - Concord College is the first public institution in West Virginia’s Higher Education Policy Commission (group of colleges and universities) to form a so-called “Sexual Assault Response Team” (SART)—an institutional committee aimed solely at preventing campus sexual violence and providing a strong victims’ advocacy network on campus and in the community.
At a recent meeting of a group of college and university vice presidents and deans of student affairs from across the state, Chancellor of Higher Education Dr. J. Michael Mullen called for the formation of a sub-committee by the Student Affairs Advisory Counsel. The sub-committee will evaluate and advise West Virginia colleges and universities on the development of programs similar to Concord’s SART. Concord Vice President for Student and Staff Affairs Dr. Deborah Curry was appointed to the sub-committee.
“We will be looking at where the different state colleges are in terms of their protocols and training and their procedures for sexual assault response, and we will be planning training for the spring semester for the different schools in that area and some other areas as well—such as student judiciary,” Curry stated.
“It appears Concord is on the forefront of this issue so far,” she added. “We’re certainly looking forward to working with the Student Advisory Committee on this important topic. I will also be working closely with Rick Dillon, the chairman of Concord’s SART, to gain information for the state subcommittee.”
According to Concord College Director of Residential Life and SART Chairman Rick Dillon, Concord’s Sexual Assault Response Team was not only the first college-oriented SART in the state of West Virginia, but also the first of its kind in the college’s home county of Mercer, located in southern West Virginia.
“Our college SART started before the county SART,” Dillon stated. “We were trained in Raleigh County (neighboring county). There’s a Mercer County SART now, started by a victim rights group in Princeton, which one of our team members, Dr. Carol Manzione, chairs.”
Concord’s SART initiative was begun last year, according to Dillon, by Dr. Delilah Conley, faculty member and “advisor” of an informal campus human rights group, in response to state needs for sexual assault prevention and victim advocacy initiatives.
“Delilah Conley pushed everybody, including me, to move in that direction,” Dillon stated. “We know everybody now in Mercer and Raleigh County who can help victims of sexual assault. SART is about finding out about sexual assault, getting help for the victim, educating ourselves continually and about keeping the victims’ needs in the forefront. We want to see justice done—it’s really a victim-driven response, and the rights of the victims are foremost.”
The trend toward sexual assault prevention and victim advocacy in higher education began in 1990, when the “Campus Safety Act” was passed. A few other states, such as New Jersey, have since adopted cohesive statements that recognize the rights of victims on each public campus within the state and mandate that the administrations of public institutions follow certain protocols and procedures when dealing with victims.
Although West Virginia has not yet followed suit, the founder of one victim advocacy and domestic violence prevention program says the chancellor’s development of programs similar to Concord’s is moving the Mountain State’s higher educational system in the right direction.
“This is very good news for Mercer County and for the entire state’s higher education system,” said Barbara Hawkins, a leader in the Pam Hawkins Foundation, a Mercer County-based organization that provides services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and abuse. (The Pam Hawkins Foundation is currently facilitating the formation of the Mercer County SART).
“Not only is Concord taking a lead in Mercer County,” Hawkins added, “it is the first college in West Virginia to establish a campus SART. The SART at Concord will not only offer important assistance to solving a case and getting a conviction, it can also become a deterrent.”
Concord SART founder and Professor of English Dr. Delilah Conley said she is excited at the prospect of similar programs being developed for other state institutions, and explained that for smaller colleges in more rural communities, “sexual assault response teams” are particularly needed.
“This is important to any college campus,” Conley said, “but especially for West Virginia colleges that are smaller or located in more rural regions. There’s no hospital on campus or right down the road where women can go if they’re assaulted. So having a program like this is particularly important in communities.”
Conley added that Concord’s SART members, pioneers in the state educational system, learned that involving campus security is highly important to the effectiveness of the team’s goals of sexual assault prevention and victim advocacy.
“Sometimes, rape victims don’t want to talk to a big, burly police officer with a gun on his side. They’re devastated, and speaking to a man in a uniform with authority is hard for them. Rape is a crime, under the jurisdiction of campus police, and so it’s hard for the officers to understand why victims sometimes don’t want to come to them for help.
“That’s another reason sexual assault response teams are helpful on campus. Security personnel learn with the rest of us how to respond better to victims and how to meet their needs right after an attack. One of Concord’s officers, James Hagerman, is part of SART because he wanted to learn how to work with victims and help put them at ease,” Conley continued.
“Concord’s public safety officers have been supportive of our efforts, and are highly involved.”
Conley also noted that male involvement on response teams helps dispel the notion that sexual assault prevention is solely the responsibility of women. She credited Rick Dillon with developing ideas for a sexual assault prevention committee into a response team.
“Rick worked really hard and was the one who had the idea of developing my proposal of a prevention-based committee into a response team. Without Rick’s involvement, the program would not have developed.”
Concord SART members were trained by experts in sexual assault law and victim advocacy, including representatives of the Women’s Resource Center in Raleigh County, West Virginia State Police Department, and the Raleigh County District Attorney’s Office, in November 2000 and March 2001.
Concord’s administration now includes sexual assault prevention seminars, led by Conley and Dillon, as part of freshman orientation. Concord College SART, comprised of Dillon (chairman), Conley (creator of Concord SART), Dr. Carol Manzione (Mercer County SART chair), Rick Crandall (faculty representative), James McCabe (Concord public safety director), James Hagerman and Mark Stella (campus public safety representatives), two residence hall directors and a student representative — recently ed a “campus response” to sexual assault. Dillon said SART members hope to see the statement accepted by college administration, faculty and the Student Government Association as Concord’s official stance on protocol and victim’s rights.
For more information on Concord’s Sexual Assault Response Team, contact Rick Dillon at 1-304-384-5231 or Delilah Conley at 1-304-384-5261.
Photo: James McCabe, Delilah Conley and Rick Dillon review new policies established by SART.
Concord College Notes: The Communication Arts Department produces the college’s student newspaper, radio programming and television programming. The department also produces theatrical and musical productions. It is organized similar to today’s modern corporation with the students completing projects under both student and faculty supervision. This gives students real-world experience that focuses on accountability and responsibility.
Jessica Shifflett, an intern in the marketing/public relations department, wrote this press release. Her hometown is Oak Hill, W.Va. She is majoring in Communication Arts with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Her anticipated graduation date is August 2001.