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SUNY is working with New York state to update and revise its system for combating domestic and gender-based violence on campus.

The plan, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in his State of the State address in January, includes four new or updated initiatives meant to reduce sexual and domestic violence on SUNY campuses, as well as at other colleges and universities. 

SUNY’s updated system comes a little less than a year after the state’s COVID-19 task force released a set of recommendations to improve services for survivors of domestic violence. According to the state’s May report, the New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline recorded a 33% increase in calls in April 2020 compared to April 2019.

As SUNY begins to implement new initiatives and promote them to other campuses across the country, here is a breakdown of the new plan:

Conduct violation training 

SUNY’s Student Conduct Institute currently trains staff and faculty at over 420 colleges and universities across the country to investigate conduct violations related to sexual assault and violence. 

The institute’s training includes information on due process, trauma-informed investigations and other processes related to student conduct investigations for Title IX coordinators, university police, conduct officials, residence life staff and human resources staff.

Students impacted by violence may have acute trauma, but may also see lifelong impact from violence

Holly Liapis, press secretary for SUNY

Under SUNY’s new plan, the institute will expand its reach to 1,000 colleges and universities across the country, with the goal of training at least 5 million college students on confronting sexual violence. 

Tiffany Brec, the campus project coordinator for the Vera House, said she hopes initiatives such as SUNY’s will help students understand how to navigate the reporting process for sexual violence. Vera House is a Syracuse-based organization that works to end domestic and sexual violence.

She said universities should make information about the reporting process more accessible and easier to understand. 

“Your traditional age group of students is not looking to make 15 clicks before I get the thing that I’m looking for,” Brec said. “It’s hard enough to ask for help, and we just need to find a way to make it easier so that once they’ve asked for help, how do we continue to help support them in moving forward in a way that works for them.”

Sexual violence prevention courses

SUNY plans to offer its Sexual and Interpersonal Violence Prevention and Response Course, also called SPARC, for free to any college or university nationwide. 

The course, which SUNY developed in 2017, offers training for college students to prevent sexual and interpersonal violence. 

Brec said SPARC and other training materials help make information related to sexual and domestic violence more digestible for students, especially when navigating legislation such as Title IX, a law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding.

In 2018, then-Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed several changes to Title IX that some experts said made the reporting process more confusing and traumatic for survivors. At the time, SUNY worked to read and present the new regulations in a simpler way through training sessions such as SPARC, Brec said.

Brec said she hopes SUNY’s new plan will do the same.

Updated research center

SUNY’s plan also includes the development of the Center for Advanced Research in Reducing the Impact of Violence in Education. The center, set to open for all SUNY and CUNY campuses in fall, will help develop new policies and outreach programs to combat sexual violence on college campuses.

“Students impacted by violence may have acute trauma, but may also see lifelong impact from violence,” said Holly Liapis, the press secretary for SUNY. The ARRIVE center helps institutions work to create safer campuses and healthier communities, she said. 

It’s hard enough to ask for help, and we just need to find a way to make it easier so that once they’ve asked for help

Tiffany Brec, campus project coordinator for the Vera House

SUNY will develop the center in partnership with the state’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence. Cuomo recently announced that the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence — which provides advising to state government and other institutions about domestic violence — will be transformed into the Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence to make state policies more focused on survivors. 

Under Cuomo’s new plan, anyone who has a membership with SUNY’s conduct institute can access ARRIVE’s training and resources.

“Many institutions across the nation struggle to develop and implement research-informed policies and programs to prevent and respond to violence and harassment,” Liapis said. “ARRIVE provides clearly understood training and programs on complex issues, and through partnerships with other higher education institutions, the center will be able to reach more students beyond SUNY.”

Social media campaign

SUNY will also work with the state’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence to launch the “I’m Asking For A Friend” social and digital campaign, which helps college students identify and prevent sexual assault and domestic or dating violence.

The program will offer resources to students about how to combat domestic violence and offer information about support services, such as ARRIVE and SPARC. It’s not clear when the program will launch. 

Brec said she wasn’t surprised by the increase in sexual assault and domestic violence cases as a result of the pandemic, especially when people were in isolation together for a long period of time. She hopes the campaign and SUNY’s other initiatives will give survivors, especially students, more access to the support they need.

“The hope is that this will have an impact on folks who are experiencing this,” Brec said. “One of the things that’s maintained its consistency is getting students to access the system or support when they need them. The state and individual campuses are recognizing better ways to do that.”

Contact Maggie: mehicks@syr.edu | @maggie_hickss

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