Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Aug. 6, 2015
The application for universities to receive funding to combat sexual assault opened Wednesday following Gov. Rick Synder’s (R) $500,000 appropriation in the state’s budget to improve efforts to prevent sexual assault.
Sue Snyder, Michigan’s first lady, was a leading advocate for the creation of the program. She and Col. Kriste Etue, state police director, officially announced the appropriation at the state’s first sexual assault prevention summit in June. The two hope the grants will encourage students and school officials to work together to create new initiatives to decrease the number of sexual assaults on campuses.
The application is open through October 1, and each university in the state can submit up to two applications. There isn’t a monetary cap on how large an individual share of the $500,000 can be, so not all schools granted will receive the same funding.
University officials have made sexual assault prevention a priority in recent years — particularly after the Department of Education began investigating its sexual misconduct procedures after its mishandling of the Brendan Gibbons case, in which the University failed to address the crime until nearly five years after the assault.
This led the University to change its sexual misconduct policy.
Many, however, do not think their efforts have been enough; last October, students led a cross-campus protest, painting the diag and listing seven demands to improve the University’s sexual assault policy once again.
University President Mark Schlissel dedicated his final fireside chat of the year to addressing the issue of sexual assault on campus. E. Royster Harper, University vice president for student life, attended the event, assuring the attendees that improving the process of reporting sexual assault on campus was a priority for the University.
“One of the things we are changing is the timeline, holding ourselves to that standard much, much tighter because it’s too hard,” Harper said in April. “And also switching it so that you don’t go all the way through the process and then appeal, but you can appeal right away. You are absolutely right about the timeline and we are going to fix that.”
In addition to improving the efficiency of sexual assault reporting, Harper said at the meeting her intentions are to increase outreach to student groups, hire more employees to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center as well as analyze the results from the University’s recent student survey on sexual misconduct.
The survey results, released late June, showed 22.5 percent of female undergraduates were sexually assaulted while at the University.
In an e-mail to the Daily in March before the funding became official, Mike Boulus, executive director for the President’s Council of the State Universities of Michigan, said state universities were unanimously interested in embracing the initiative.
“Governor Snyder’s commitment to this issue is to be commended,” Boulus said. “He mentioned that it was a priority during a recent meeting with presidents — and they all agree.”
In an e-mail to the Daily, Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations at the University, said the state funding to combat sexual assault on college campuses demonstrates a commitment to seeking the most effective methods handling the prevalent issue.
Wilbanks added that the University might submit a proposal to receive funding from the grant.
In response to data from the recent sexual assault survey on campus, Wilbanks said specific plans to address the issue of sexual assault are being devised by University officials.
“The survey data provides a great deal of information that is being used to identify additional ways to address this important issue,” Wilbanks said. “Specific strategies are being evaluated now– and I expect leaders from student life and others will focus on next steps that will unfold in the coming months.”