Haven Project undergoes organizational changes: Peer educators transferred to Health AWAREness office

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The Haven Project and the Health AWAREness program have been separated due to administrative decisions in the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Student Affairs division.

“This fall, several staff and faculty members have assumed new roles in designing and implementing sexual violence prevention, health education, and support services for students,” according to IUP’s website.

Michelle Fryling, executive director of communications and media relations, said it was time for a change.

“We had done the same things for many, many years, but with this commitment to student success and advancing student success, sometimes it’s time to think about reorganizing systems so that they’re better aligned to really serve students,” she said.

The Haven Project is solely an IUP foundation started by Malinda Levis in 2002. She retired Friday.

The program received grant funding for nine years, according to Dr. Jessica Miller, Haven psychologist of IUP’s Counseling Center.

The mission of the the Haven Project is to increase and improve counseling and advocacy services for students who experience sexual assault, violence, stalking, inequality or domestic abuse, according to IUP’s website.

Due to the separation of offices in August, the Health AWAREness office continues to reside in Suites on Maple East. However, the Haven Project offices have been relocated to Sutton Hall.

Additionally, there are no longer peer educators working for the Haven Project. They are currently employed under Health AWAREness, in which they continue to work as peer educators but are unable to work on anything Haven Project-related, according to Katharine McKinney (senior, criminology), who is a peer educator.

“We were all hired under the understanding that we were passionate about these topics and wanted to educate about these topics,” McKinney said.“Our primary reason for being hired was because we’re passionate about violence awareness and prevention.”

Alisia Drew, a former employee of both offices, worked three roles during her six years in the program. Drew’s final position, which she held for two years, was the assistant director of Health AWAREness and Women’s Programs.

“I decided to leave after being notified in May that our Student Affairs division was realigning, and with this change, I would no longer implement the Haven Project education plan, [which was] the entire reason I chose to apply,” she said in an Oct. 8 email.

Valerie Mercado, university compliance officer and Title IX coordinator, commented on them leaving the program.

“You’ve got two content experts that have essentially left some knowledge gap, so now we’re just reconfiguring everything,” Mercado said. “So I wouldn’t look at it as [the offices are] separate, I would look at it as in the interim, we’re really trying to find the strongest way to move both programs forward.”

The Haven Project now has one student employee in the office: Brandon Weber, a full-time graduate student.

The Haven Project holds two major events every year, RAINN Day (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) and Take Back the Night. The peer educators were unable to contribute to RAINN Day, which occurred Sept. 17. They are also unable to begin planning for Take Back the Night in the spring.

Instead, the peer educators had to sign up as volunteers if they wanted to participate in the event.

“We are being told that there are no students that will help with the Haven Project,” McKinney said, “and that it will be mostly volunteer based. I understand volunteers are also a vital part of the process, but they can’t do everything. It’s just not feasible.”

Mercado stressed the fact that the peer educators are important and necessary to the program.

“Peer educators are leaders within the university community, and students look up to them as content experts in their field,” she said.

However, McKinney and fellow peer educator Morgan Paul (senior, psychology and sociology) are concerned that IUP students will not receive the necessary education on these topics or have a venue with which to speak about these issues if there are no peer educators.

“I think the Haven Project, especially right now, is incredibly important to our campus, and unfortunately, because of these decisions, the resources are lacking,” Paul said.

On Monday, a meeting was held in McElhaney Hall to discuss collaborative efforts that can be made on the issues surrounding the Haven Project.

Some of the peer educators, Students Advocating Gender Equality (SAGE) and faculty of IUP passionate about women’s programs discussed the problems and possible solutions.

Some of the concerns addressed were that the peer educators should be doing Haven Project work, that there are limited resources about education and prevention because of the changes that have been made and that volunteers are not trained to speak to victims of sexual assault, whereas the peer educators are.

Prior to receiving jobs as peer educators, the students had to go through several training components online through D2L, which was a total of 30 hours, McKinney said.

In addition to collaborative meeting, Paul and McKinney, several other peer educators and SAGE president Kelly Davis (sociology, senior), designed a red solo cup initiative in the Oak Grove, which took place Wednesday along with the social media campaign #3052toomany.

The event intended to raise awareness of sexual assault on campuses. If nationwide statistics hold true for IUP, 3,052 people on IUP’s campus have been, or will be, sexually assaulted. Cups were assembled around a tree in the center of the Oak Grove, and each cup represented a student.

With the help of faculty members and students, the peer educators are fighting to not only keep the Haven Program succesful but to also keep peer educators in the program.

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