Teaming Up for a Violence-Free Community

At MSU, becoming a violence-free community is a team effort.

The team began nearly a decade ago when the Violence Free Communities committee was first charged with coordinating the university’s growing efforts to prevent sexual violence and misconduct. The team expanded in 2015 when President Lou Anna K. Simon created the Sexual Violence Advisory Committee as a way to give students, faculty and staff a voice in shaping campus climate.

Today the Violence Free Communities (VFC) committee is made up of representatives from more than a dozen campus programs: the Greek Life Office; LBGT Resource Center; MSU Police Department, MSU Safe Place, Office of General Counsel; Office of Institutional Equity; Olin Health and Wellness Services; Recreational Sports-Self Defense Program; Sexual Assault Program; Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Program; Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution Office; and WorkLife Office .

The Sexual Violence Advisory Committee (SVAC) brings in other sectors of the campus community, including athletics, band, the Council of Ethnic and Racial Students, the Office for International Students and Scholars, the Alliance of Queer and Ally Students, the President’s Advisory Committee on Disability Issues, the Greek community, MSU College of Law, faculty, and support staff. Members are appointed by Simon.

“We all work together as a very dynamic, collaborative team,” said Kelly Schweda, program coordinator of the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Program and a member of the VFC. “I attend a lot of conferences with people from other universities, and I find that MSU is unique in how we work together. The MSU approach really shows the power of collaboration.”

For example, the VFC committee collaborated last year to train a bystander network of bar owners and cab drivers in East Lansing. The grant-funded initiative provided nightclub and taxi operators with information about campus resources that are available when a member of the campus community needs support.

This year the VFC is helping to launch a bystander training program for students with a new grant from the state’s “Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault” initiative.

The SVAC committee last year launched a Student Leadership Institute to bring student leaders together to address issues related to sexual violence on campus. A second institute will take place this year.

“It’s critically important to have a team approach,” said Amy Bonomi, chair of the SVAC committee and a professor and chair of the Department of Human Development & Family Studies. “The approach we are undertaking at MSU is among the most comprehensive that I’ve seen, and we continue to look for ways to deepen our collaboration to create sustained, systemic change.”

Co-chairing the VFC this year are MSU staffers Caroline Nelsen, a sexual assault therapist, and Erica Phillipich, the university’s health promotion program manager. They succeed Liz Abdnour, senior institutional equity investigator in the MSU Office of Institutional Equity, and Tana Fedewa, coordinator of the university’s Sexual Assault Program, who co-chaired the committee for the past two years.

“We are committed to coordinating and collaborating among campus partners to develop comprehensive and unified programming and messages, identify service gaps, facilitate training and other programs, as well as support opportunities for employees and students to engage in violence prevention efforts,” Phillipich said.

The VFC committee this past spring submitted a 2016-2017 annual report that summarizes recent accomplishments and includes strategic recommendations for the 2017-2018 year. The annual report is available here: http://titleix.msu.edu/_files/documents/Violence-Free-Communities-2017-Annual-Report-FINAL.pdf

The SVAC submitted a “toolkit”, representing feedback gathered through the committee’s town hall and focus group events, to help guide the university’s efforts to combat sexual violence. It is available here: http://titleix.msu.edu/_files/documents/svac-spring-2017-toolkit-revised-april.pdf