By Alexis Johns | October 18, 2021
The University at Albany’s Sexual Violence Prevention Ambassadors is undergoing a series of staff changes this semester following the retirement of its director, the creation of a new position, and the expansion of partnerships on campus and in Albany that are aimed at increasing awareness and prevention of sexual violence on campus.
Last month, the center’s founder, Carol Stenger, retired. In 1994 Carol founded and directed a 50 member peer education group named Project SHAPE (Sexual Health and Peer Education). SHAPE provides over 120 sexual violence, sexuality and sexual health workshops each year for the University at Albany community.
The University at Albany’s SVPA is a group of student peer educators that have been trained by the university’s Advocacy Center for Sexual Violence Assistant Director and program director, Mary McCarthy. Each peer educator’s goal is to increase sexual violence prevention education across UAlbany’s campus.
The Advocacy Center, which can be found in the Health and Counseling Building on campus, is in transition due to the retirement of Stenger. While the university works to replace Stenger, they have partnered with the Albany County Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center to ensure that students continue to have access to important support and advocacy services.
Stenger’s replacement will take the title of trauma and resilience specialist. This licensed practitioner will provide confidential trauma-informed crisis intervention and support to students impacted by sexual assault, intimate partner violence (IPV), stalking, childhood sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, as well as race-based and cultural bias. More information on this position will be coming soon.
Kelsey Butz, the communications specialist for the Office of Communications and Marketing at UAlbany, commented, “This licensed practitioner will provide confidential trauma-informed crisis intervention and support to students impacted by sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, childhood sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, as well as race-based and cultural bias.”
Beginning in the Spring semester of 2022 SVPA will be joining their sister peer services groups. These groups include the Middle Earth Peer Assistance Program and Project SHAPE: Sexual Health and Peer Education. As a benefit, the university will start offering training to students through a series of academic credit-bearing courses in peer assistance and peer education. The training will take place through the School of Education’s Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology. Students taking these courses will be eligible to complete an educational studies minor or a human development major. Butz also stated that “The SVPA peer group, as well as Middle Earth and Project SHAPE, will each remain separate groups with their own identities and focus areas, and the academic courses students will be training under will offer the UAlbany student community the highest quality peer services”
More information on this transition will be coming soon. To get in touch with a CVSVC advocate you can call (518) 442-CARE, and identify yourself as a UAlbany student. Through this new partnership with CVSVC, UAlbany students are able to have access to a more diverse staff of advocacy and support professionals, which is something students have been seeking.
Any student at UAlbany can receive confidential assistance over the phone, or in person about their rights, counseling, reporting, and on-campus accommodations. Students are entitled to have an advocate or advisor with them when meeting with school personnel or law enforcement.
Recent reports have concluded that sexual assault still remains underreported at New York colleges despite legislation passed in 2015 designed to aid this problem. The University at Albany’s Sexual Violence Prevention Ambassadors new transition is aimed to defy this.
In 2015, Gov. Cuomo passed the Enough is Enough Act (Educational Law 129-b), which required all New York State colleges and universities to keep a log of any incidents reported as well as tracking their outcomes. New York has a total of 239 institutions. Of this 239, only 70 reported having no incidents or just one. Some did not even bother to complete the survey or keep track of reports at all. Frequently asked questions along with answers on the Enough is Enough Act Annual Data Reporting can be found at this website.
Butz mentioned that it is not about raising awareness, but also building strong tools to respond. “No one intervention alone is responsible for building that culture of reporting. Rather, it’s the collective effort of many people and many programs across the campus,” said Butz.
UAlbany is ranked third for reported sexual violence among New York State institutions as of 2019. Butz also mentioned how successful the culture of “disclosure and capturing” of information in which needs reporting under 129-b has been. “That is a testament to the hard work of a lot of people across campus, including the Office of Equity and Compliance, Sexual Violence Support and Advocacy Services and, of course, the Sexual Violence Prevention Ambassadors.”
During the Fall 2020 semester, UAlbany’s SVPA was able to host 18 virtual programs that had over 600 attendees. On Oct. 15, 2021 SVPA will be hosting a program about the intersection between intimate partner violence and one’s cultural identity at 6 p.m. in Humanities 137. The program is one of many in the SVPA relationship series for the month of Oct. in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
SVPA understands how important it is to make people feel comfortable and supported. This helps to ensure that students have a safe place to come forward and report their experiences. UAlbany has a disclosure agreement when it comes to reporting. If you need to report an incident you can visit: https://www.albany.edu/advocacycenter/ . A 24-hour hotline number is available here as well as an online chat room. Students can also schedule counseling and psychological services through this website.
Sexual violence is not only underreported in New York but also nationwide. “A larger number of reports does not necessarily mean sexual violence is more prevalent on our campus than others; it more likely means that survivors are more comfortable coming forward here, and that is a positive thing,” Butz said.
Any UA student that has experienced sexual violence may also reach out to the University Police Department at (518-442-3131 or email: UPDweb@albany.edu), the University’s Title IX Coordinator (518-442-3800 or email: OEC@albany.edu), and Albany County Crime Victim & Sexual Violence Center (518-447-7100 or email: email@example.com). All information will always be kept confidential as a safety precaution.