Increasing sexual violence awareness on Robert Morris University’s campus


Photo Credit: (MGN Online)

Jordan Redinger, Contributor

PITTSBURGH — In response to the rapid increase of sexual assault allegations in the media, particularly regarding the #MeToo movement, universities across America are striving to create more programs to ensure students are safe. Robert Morris University is no different.

“The best thing is to create communication,” said Lisa Hernandez of RMU’s Title IX office.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, RMU is one of over 7,000 postsecondary institutions that are part of Title IX.

“RMU probably falls into the national average for sexual assault cases. It’s hard to judge because it’s not something that’s well reported,” said Holly Harmon, the director of RMU’s Counseling Center.

As a Title IX university, it is part of RMU’s commitment to not only help navigate sexual assault allegations but to work with student groups around campus and raise awareness.

“I think awareness on campus has risen for sure,” said Hernandez.

She started her position as Title IX Coordinator in August and has since studied past statistics on allegations and cases involving sexual assault or harassment on campus. There was a minor spike at the beginning of the Fall 2018 semester in assault allegations on campus.

“I think that was just a result from a change of positioning,” said Hernandez.

With this spike in allegations, there has also been an increase in student groups and programs developed to specifically target these issues.

One such group, Thrive, works through the RMU Counseling Center to provide information about mental health to other students.

“Interest goes in waves with the leaders. April is sexual assault awareness month, and October is domestic violence,” said Sam Beckas about Thrive-hosted events.

Beckas has worked as the Outreach Specialist for the student group since August 2018.

In her time here, Beckas has noticed that there have been several new groups asking to work with Thrive to address sexual violence issues.

These groups include Active Minds, the Women’s Leadership and Mentorship Program, Strong Women Strong Girls, Residence Life, the Panhellenic Counsel, the Student Veteran’s Association, the Athletics Department and the Student Alliance for Equality.

“There’s been a rise in student activism because of the social climate. They want to be more involved in the things they care about,” said Beckas.

Student surveys, generated by the Title IX office, offer feedback to help with measuring this changing social climate. Participation in these surveys is key to creating new awareness programs.

Other than increasing student interest, there are outside factors that have allowed for RMU to grow its awareness programs.

“We’ve recently been a recipient of Governor Wolf’s ‘It’s on Us’ Grant,” said Hernandez. This gives RMU more funding to help focus on growing its campus-wide awareness.

“This program allows for new online training programs, specifically for Greek Life groups as well as student-athletes,” Hernandez explained.

“It indirectly helps with programing and coordinating events,” said Harmon.

This also extends to funding for support of victims of sexual violence as well as getting free supplies for events such as Chicken Nuggets, Condoms and Consent, an event that Thrive hopes will become annual.

One other new launch will be of a video detailing the services that Title IX offers to students.

“I think a video is going to be easier for students to get information rather than handing them a packet of papers to read,” Said Hernandez about her video project.

Additionally, students should look forward to seeing new speakers being brought onto campus by Title IX to lecture about sexual violence.

“It is all part of the big five-year plan for more advocacy,” said Harmon. For the Counseling Center, this plan began with the creation of social media presence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“The dream is to create a website that has information readily and rapidly available, so students know what to do,” said Harmon.

While RMU stands out as a university that is extremely aware of sexual assault and is dedicated to making it a topic of discussion, there are many changes in its future of prevention.

All of this is possible through both an increased public awareness of sexual assault incidents and an enormous effort being made by students on RMU’s campus.

“Students are becoming active and outspoken about it, but it’s still hard considering the stigma,” said Beckas about some of the barriers she would like to see overcome.

As RMU gains more funding, the future of sexual assault awareness on campus is looking bright for those that work to increase it.

“The dialogue has changed. Students have it on their minds,” said Harmon with a smile.

Below are some upcoming events hosted by Thrive:

April 2 Bystander Workshop

April 8-18 Take Back the Night Advocacy

April 23 Rainn Day

April 24 Take Back the Night Walk