Nearly 20 percent of undergraduate women report having experience attempted or completed sexual assault since beginning college, according to a study in the Journal of American College Health. Sexual assault occurs on all campuses, even Vassar. The Sexual Assault and Violence Response Team (SART) are a collection college faculty, staff and administrators with the mission of helping the student victims of interpersonal violence.
According to the SART website, team members will to offer guidance, knowledge and assistance to victims, but never force a decision on them. Elizabeth Shrock is the SART Coordinator of the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention Program.
Shrock wrote in an emailed statement, “As the Coordinator, I supervise the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) and often meet one-on- one with students that have questions or want support for sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating/domestic violence and stalking. It’s my job to know all the possible avenues of support for them, and to be able to advocate for their needs on and off campus.” Her interest in sexual assault and violence-related advocacy and activism began when she was an undergraduate and became involved with Take Back the Night, an activist organization dedicated to fighting sexual violence. Her advocacy in her community grew from there. “I also became a volunteer sexual assault advocate, working with survivors at a crisis center in Michigan to advocate for them at hospitals, police stations and court,” wrote Shrock. Although she admits that her work is challenging and has the capacity to evoke a variety of negative emotions, such as sadness, anger and frustration, she doesn’t downplay the inspirational aspects of working with survivors and seeing their endurance.
She wrote, “Being given the privilege to be able to also see such strength and resilience in the students I’m working with that take that first step in coming to talk with me, and then sometimes walking with them through some steps of the recovery process such as starting therapy or even reporting that they were sexually assaulted to Vassar College or the police, is something I never take for granted.”
Professor of Psychology Janet Gray has been involved with SART since its beginnings. “Working with a small group of fellow faculty members in the 1990s, I became involved in what eventually grew into [the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention program] and SART. We were concerned that the few resources on campus that provided support for students who were victims of sexual assault were being eliminated and that the entire conversation around these issues was being silenced,” she wrote inan emailed statement. This process involved working with members of the administration, Health Services, Metcalf and Security, among others campus offices.
Said Gray, “[The coalition sought] to try to find the right balance of providing volunteer support services using a victim-centered approach, while also navigating our way through important issues of confidentiality, liability and practicalities,” she said.
Support for these services was largely provided by grants from the Department of Justice Violence Against Women Program. Gray explained, writing, “SART and SAVP have grown in to mature programs that offer advocacy and support (SART) and education and policy (SAVP) initiatives on campus.”
Vassar’s Sustainability Assistant Alistair Hall ’11 joined the team out of concern for the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. He wrote in an emailed statement, “This is an issue I care a lot about and thought it would be beneficial to be a male identified member on the team as well more broadly speaking, working on issues of interpersonal violence.”
Hall joined over the team this past summer after being asked by Shrock. Since he is a recent addition to the team, he was able to provide insight into the current training, which involved two half-day training sessions.
Hall wrote about his orientation experience. He said, “Elizabeth had reps from lots of great local agencies come speak to us about the work they do on a daily basis and walk us through everything: reporting options, the student conduct process, our victim-centered approach and more.”
Hall also explained that the training involved a couple of roleplay phone calls from a member of SART, based upon real situations. Of this experience, he described, “It’s a pretty long ten to twenty minutes but…it really gives you a sense of your role and what it means to be ‘on call.’”
Although Hall attended his first official meeting in January, he was inspired by the experience and passion of the other SART members. “I definitely have a lot to learn still but am excited to be involved with the team,” he said.
SART meets at least once a month for workshops. The next one will involve education in Questions, Persuade, Refer, a suicide prevention guide.
Administrative Assistant for the Education Department Dayle Rebelein was inspired to join SART after her positive experiences with students when she served as a House Fellow.
Wrote Rebelein in an emailed statement, “From 2003 until 2006 my husband and I were House Fellows in Strong. Through that experience I learned that I really enjoy and appreciate college-aged people. I very much loved spend- ing time with my house team, sharing their fun, hearing their concerns, supporting them and their goal of supporting all the Strong women.”
She was also influenced by her observations of the sexual revolution and the changing cultural climate. “Personally, my young adult life was spent in the latter half of the sexual revolution. All the rules about sex and love were supposedly ancient history and there was a good deal of pressure to be a free spirit sexually—this was a difficult time to navigate dating and learning about relationships,” she wrote.
As to her duties on the team, she added, “I am on call for a week typically four times a semester, and serve as backup for a week a few more times.”
Lydia Murdoch, Associate Professor of History and Director of Victorian Studies, joined SART in the summer of 2009 after Gray sent out a call for new advocates. Several factors influenced her decision to become a SART advocate, including a recent first-hand experience which laid bare the necessity of such advocacy, as well as her involvement in the Women’s Studies Program.
“The previous semester, I found myself very ill-prepared to help a student who had experienced sexual assault and stalking on campus. As a faculty member who was about to become the Director of the Women’s Studies Program, I felt I needed to learn more about Vassar’s policies on interpersonal violence and examine what I could do to prevent such acts of violence from happening in the first place,” stated Murdoch in an emailed statement. Murdoch has continued to remain involved with SART because she knows that this work is necessary.
“I’ve remained on the team because, unfortunately, sexual assault, interpersonal violence and stalking continue to be major problems on Vassar’s campus,” she said. Like Shrock, she too has felt rewarded by her experiences with survivors, stating, “The relationships that I’ve formed with these students have been some of the most important to me.”
The SART team emphasizes victim-centered approaches whenever possible. According to Rebelein, “We feel like it is really important to continue to emphasize that when anyone seeks the help of a SART advocate, that person can get all the support, information, help and care that they need, and they can be in control of how far the process goes.”
Other members of SART include Renee Pabst, Lisa Kooperman, Barb Olsen, Carlos Alamo-Pastrana, Judy Jarvis, Ming Wen-An, Bill Hoynes, Gretchen Lieb and Pamela Hall.