The University has achieved a milestone in its efforts to prevent sexual violence and misconduct. Housed within the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), a new education and prevention office has been established to focus on stopping sexual violence before it starts.
“The results from the AAU Campus Climate Survey were really sobering,” said Katie Pope, associate vice chancellor of civil rights and Title IX, who is serving as interim vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion. “While the data suggested that there was a lot of great prevention work being done, it wasn’t changing behavior quickly enough. It’s become very clear that we need to expand on those efforts.”
For the first time, Pitt will have a dedicated staff member whose sole focus is on preventing sexual violence and misconduct. Tapped to lead the new office is Carrie Benson (EDUC ’12G), who is transitioning from her role as Title IX specialist to prevention and education coordinator. Benson has been with ODI since 2015.
“There are great prevention efforts happening on campus, but we need to broaden our scope. Pitt needs to take on this work in a really focused way,” said Benson. “It’s our next frontier in Title IX and it is where we need to go in order to promote a safer, more respectful campus.”
With more time to focus on new programs and education, Benson said she’ll start by going on a “listening tour” of campus, in which she’ll ask about the needs of students, faculty and staff. She said she’ll also be completing assessments of what’s happening on campus.
“In these assessments, I’ll be thinking about how we can provide tools and resources to help encourage cultural change,” said Benson.
One of her goals is to create new initiatives that reach populations that have not been as engaged in sexual violence prevention, said Benson. And she added that making data-driven decisions when creating new programs will be a priority.
“We want to make sure these new initiatives are research-based and that they’re being evaluated so we know they’re effective,” she said.
Benson said trainings and education programs will be developed to encourage people to continually think about their own behavior.
“We want people to have a clear definition of what harassment is, and to think about what it looks like on a continual basis,” she said. “We want to engage the community in dialogues around gender norms and intersectionality. We also want to make sure people know how to get in touch with the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX, but at the same time, prevent them ever having to use their services.”
Leveraging the work of campus partners, student groups
Expanding upon the work that students, faculty and staff who are already doing prevention and education work is a key part in getting the office up and running, said Benson. Particularly, she said the Wellness Center, Human Resources, the Division of Student Affairs and others have been great campus partners.
“We don’t want to minimize the work that’s happening already. We need to figure out ways to expand on what’s already being done. And for others that have great ideas, we can help leverage their expertise and passion to get their plans off the ground,” she said.
Benson will also continue to support the Sexual Assault Facilitation and Education (SAFE) peer educators along with Michele Welker, clinician with the Counseling Center.
“The SAFE peer educators is a really devoted group of students. Each one of them is dedicated to ending sexual violence on Pitt’s campus, and we hope to continue to grow the program,” said Benson.
Benson said she’s looking forward to expanding the efforts for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, happening in April, by bringing in students, faculty and staff from various departments to develop the planning and programming.
In addition to creating a prevention office, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher announced the creation of an education and prevention task force composed of 12 experts—faculty, staff and students—from across campus who can help combat sexual violence.
The chancellor also announced the recipients of a special Pitt Seed funding cycle and research funds to support grassroots solutions proposed by faculty and staff, plus grants given to student government boards.
“Sexual misconduct is counter to Pitt’s very mission and goals,” said Benson. “As an institution, we need to provide the resources and talent to eradicate it.”
“It’s such a big initiative, and we have to start now.”