Women's Center receives U.S. Justice Department grant

Grand Valley's Women's Center received a federal grant to raise awareness of sexual assault and dating violence and help reduce the number of such incidents on campus.

The $265,129 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women will help the Women’s Center further transform the campus culture around violence prevention for dating/domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. It will also allow the center to expand partnerships with on-campus offices that will benefit from training such as the Counseling and Career Development Center, Public Safety, and Judicial Services through the Dean of Students Office.

Marlene Kowalski-Braun, director of the Women's Center, said she and other grant writers recognized a great disconnect between what students informally share about their experience with violence and what they formally report. In 2009, there were two reported sex offenses on campus.

"This is a transformative grant in that we are trying to further open communication with students who are victims of domestic and dating violence, stalking and sexual assault to help them utilize support systems that are already in place," Kowalski-Braun said. "More importantly, we get to do important campus-wide prevention work through the grant that will benefit all students."

The grant allows for hiring Theresa Rowland as grant coordinator, increasing education and training programs, and expanding partnerships with nonprofit agencies. One of the community partners is the YWCA of West Central Michigan. Carla Blinkhorn, CEO of the YWCA, said it took courage for the Women's Center to apply for this grant.

"The grant money focuses on preventing domestic violence and sexual assault but it means that you have to recognize that it’s an underreported number," Blinkhorn said.

The YWCA manages a free nurse examiner program for victims of sexual assault. Blinkhorn said about 250 people ages 18-22 use the program annually. She added that in the past three years, college-age people account for nearly 50 percent of people who contact the sexual assault crisis hot line.

Other community partners include the Center for Women in Transition in Holland, Ottawa County Sheriff's Department, Lakeshore Alliance Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Community Coordinated Response Team in Grand Rapids, and Wesley Fellowship at Grand Valley.