Juniata College faculty, administration and students received a visit from the State Department of Education Friday to discuss the success of their It’s On Us programming.
The college is a five-time recipient of the state-distributed grant that sponsors programs designed to prevent interpersonal violence and sexual assault on campus. Deputy Secretary of the Office of Postsecondary and Higher Education Dr. Tanya I. Garcia and director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Postsecondary and Adult Education Dr. Kim McCurdy visited with campus leaders to discuss the ways the grant and its programming have impacted the Juniata community.
Garcia saids it’s rare for any educational institution to receive the grant for five consecutive years. She said she was immensely impressed by the impact of the It’s On Us programs, and the many ways they are incorporated into student life at Juniata.
“Just think that on top of all of the excellent education that the students are receiving here, they’re also being equipped to become better human beings, and they’re going to take this with them wherever their futures lie. I’m just extremely proud, and I feel fortunate to have been able to learn from a five-time grantee,” said Garcia.
Among those present at the discussion were Juniata College director of the Office for the Prevention of Interpersonal Violence Jennifer Pencek, associate athletic director Scott McKenzie, vice president for student life, dean of students and acting title IX coordinator Matthew Damschroder, senior associate dean of health and wellness Jody Althouse and college president James Troha. Student leaders from programs operated by the Office for the Prevention of Interpersonal Violence were also present to share the impact of the It’s On Us programs.
During the discussion, Troha mentioned that to even start down the path of addressing sexual and interpersonal violence at Juniata would mean first acknowledging the problem. Althouse said she warned him that things would look much worse before they got better.
“It’s a bit of a risk to go after these (It’s On Us) funds, to acknowledge this is happening,” said Troha.
Althouse said before they started these programs — which among other things have encouraged reporting sexual violence, and created proper channels to address the issue — Juniata recorded approximately two assaults per year.
In the first year, that number jumped to 21. Althouse said seeing those numbers rise is actually a success, because these assaults have to be recorded before they can be stopped.
“That was a cultural shift for us that I think we have all embraced… We know it’s happening. It’s not that we (specifically) have a problem. These problems are everywhere. We’ve got to bring it to the surface and address it or it’s not going to get taken care of and the safety of our students is going to be put at risk,” said Troha. “It has become part and parcel of who we are culturally to have It’s On Us in our hallways, to have the Green Dot pieces, and for us to not be afraid to address these issues.”
Juniata College was most recently awarded $30,000 in December for the latest round of the It’s On Us grant. That money goes to support the Office of Interpersonal Violence, which is also known as the Safe Place to Talk (SPoT); the Green Dot retreats where nominated student leaders learn skills like bystander intervention and peer counseling skills; and related “It’s On Us” marketing materials like T-shirts that students are encouraged to wear on the fifth of every month.
Pencek says they’ve worked hard not just to include the senior leadership, like those attending the discussion, but to also introduce educational materials, safety materials and support for survivors at every level of the college. She said the moment prospective students even come to campus on tours they’re being educated on the measures taken by Juniata to combat violence on its campus. That approach then trickles into every other aspect of student life including athletics.
“Everyone has the same mission which is to keep our campus and our students safe,” said Pencek.
Garcia and McCurdy have been visiting several colleges that have received the grant multiple times to learn more about their individual successes. They both left Juniata highly impressed with the students they had met, and the programs they had learned about.
“You have received the grant five times. Not many colleges have, and we have a lot to learn from what you’ve been doing,” said Garcia.