In September 2016, the Department of Justice announced through its Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) that it would be dispensing 61 grants totaling $25 million in an effort to help victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse on college campuses. After an extensive application process, the University of Tulsa recently learned that it would be receiving one of these grants, worth $299,999.

Kelsey Hancock, a TU alum and the new Violence Prevention Program Coordinator, hired to oversee implementation of the grant’s funds, praised the university’s research department and community partners who came together to draft the grant proposal.

Though TU is still in the early stages of deciding how best to allocate the money and is still in the process of hiring a Survivor Advocate for campus, Hancock is thrilled with the opportunities that will be presented. She returned last week from a grant institute held by the OVW in Fort Worth, Texas and is “teeming with ideas about how to strengthen our response to interpersonal violence on our campus.”

Prior to this school year, university sponsored programming intended to raise awareness for Intimate Partner Violence (IPV, a term used to collectively describe physical, sexual or psychological harm within a relationship) was limited by the lack of resources allocated to the Advocacy Alliance. The organization received funding from the office of Student Affairs and the Women’s and Gender Studies Department but not from the Student Association.

Whitney Cipolla, Vice President of SA and the president of the Student Alliance for Violence Education (SAVE), spoke about the importance of giving the Advocacy Alliance a concrete budget to work with.

“Haley Anderson [President of SA] and I saw giving Advocacy Alliance a budget of $10,000 as a great use of student funds to support programming and awareness initiatives for students. Historically, the Cabinet Department of Student Awareness has done great events bringing awareness to issues pertaining to sexual assault and violence, but [this year] we’ve been able to greatly increase the amount of programming efforts on campus.” These programming events will now likely increase even further in number and scale with the acquisition of the federal grant.

TU has long been at the forefront of efforts to reduce IPV on campus. Members of the Trauma Research, Assessment, Prevention, and Treatment Center teamed with TITAN (the University of Tulsa Institute for Trauma, Adversity, and Injustice) to implement a campus climate survey even before it was mandated by the federal government in 2016, and both groups have been researching effective ways to design bystander programs. While both Hancock and Cipolla were quick to praise how far TU has come with regard to its response to sexual violence, they maintained that there is still a ways to go.

Cipolla specifically called out the university’s handling of sexual assault cases on campus, asking for “more transparency” and “a better job of alerting the campus about safety concerns and more accurately convey[ing] the gravity of the situation.” She also suggested a 24-hour hotline be made available to students for reporting of cases of sexual assault and urged TU to maintain Hancock’s position of program coordinator after the three years mandated by the government.

“A promise to keep the position … after the grant runs out would be a huge statement from the university saying that TU as an institution is committing to the longevity of a dedicated position to focus solely on awareness, prevention and the responding of incidents of sexual assault.”

While TU has not yet made it clear if they will take this course of action, Hancock for one is confident in TU’s long-term commitment to anti-sexual assault activism. She says that “our campus is on the cusp of becoming a model for university IPV” and hinted at possible joint initiatives with other recipients of the federal grant in the near future.