Inside the 7 “innovative solutions” for sexual assault on campus


Kaycee Orwig | Staff Photographer

Chancellor Gallagher announced in January that the University will take several measures to address sexual misconduct issues on campus.

By Neena Hagen and Elise Roessner

The University awarded funding in mid-January for seven “innovative solutions” to prevent sexual misconduct on campus, several months after Chancellor Patrick Gallagher called the University’s current approach to preventing sexual misconduct “insufficient”.

The release of a 217-page report last October by the Association of American Universities examining current rates of sexual assault and misconduct on 33 university campuses, including Pitt, prompted the changes. The report found that one in six Pitt students had experienced nonconsensual sexual touching at least once since entering college and one in nine had experienced forced penetration.

Gallagher announced after the report’s release that the University will take several measures to address the issue as part of a community-driven response. The actions include creating a dedicated education and prevention unit within the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and allocating $54,000 in Pitt Momentum Fund grants for research into preventing sexual misconduct. The University also launched a special cycle of Pitt Seed funding in October, making up to $250,000 available for “innovation solutions” to the issue proposed by faculty and staff.

Daniel Walsh | Staff Graphic Artist

The Pitt News talked to several of the people leading the seven projects, which were awarded funding in mid-January. Many details about the projects are not currently available due to the recent release of funding. Here’s what each project hopes to accomplish:

Title IX/Green Dot Initiative for Pitt-Bradford and Pitt-Titusville

The Title IX/Green Dot Initiative will implement sexual misconduct training programs for faculty and staff on Pitt-Bradford and Pitt-Titusville campuses, according to Christy Clark, the head of the initiative and chief of staff to Pitt-Bradford President Catherine Koverola. Green Dot is a nationally recognized bystander intervention program for preventing sexual assault.

Faculty and students who participate in these programs will learn to recognize behaviors that constitute sexual violence and intervene accordingly.

The funding will also allow Pitt to enhance its anonymous reporting website, which serves as the primary way Pitt community members can report sexual assault without going directly to the police.

“Outcomes will be measured by the number of additional Green Dot instructors that become certified and by the number of workshops and trainings conducted with the faculty, staff and students,” Clark said.

Clark said she will review Pitt’s annually reported statistics on sexual assault to determine whether or not the the additional training causes a decrease in rates of sexual misconduct.

Encouraging Faculty, Staff and Student Participation in Primary Prevention

This project, developed by the Committee for Gender Equity, aims to cut down on gender-based violence in the University community. Faculty and students who want to have classroom conversations about the root causes of gender-based violence will receive special training materials, according to Sheila Confer, the project head and Pitt-Greensburg Academic Village director.

“We need to educate our community more about the root causes of gender-based violence and help people … [discuss] difficult topics such as sexism, misogyny, unhealthy gender roles and expectations, objectification of women and victim blaming,” Confer said.

Confer said these issues contribute to a culture where violence against women is normalized.

To measure the project’s success, Confer said she will administer a pre- and post-training  survey to incoming first years and graduating seniors. The survey will assess students’ attitudes toward gender roles and gender-based violence.

Translating TGQN Campus Climate Findings into Practice

Transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary and gender nonconforming students face significantly higher rates of sexual violence than their cisgender peers. Rachel Gartner, an assistant professor of social work and head of the TGQN initiative, wants to change that.

Gartner has researched violence and victimization of gender and sexual minority youth, as well as advocated for sexual violence survivors in the aftermath of sexual assault. She will utilize her research experience to conduct listening sessions with TGQN students on campus to understand their experiences and get their thoughts on possible interventions.

The project will conduct community feedback sessions with various campus groups and community organizations. They will put together a report identifying problems and suggesting best practices for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Culturally Sensitive Sexual Misconduct Prevention Programming for International Graduate and Professional Students

A three-person team of administrators from across the University is working to educate Pitt’s international students on their rights and resources with regard to sexual misconduct. The team includes Holger Hoock, associate dean for graduate studies and research, along with Mary Besterfield-Sacre, associate dean of academic affairs and director of the Engineering Education Research Center and Adam Lee, associate dean for academic programs in the School of Computing and Information.

The project description noted that resources specifically relating to sexual misconduct involving international students are limited and that female international students in male-dominated fields may be at higher risk of being targets of this behavior.

In an attempt to combat this lack of information, the project is focused on creating online training materials for international students to understand the United States’ laws and cultural norms.

LGBTQIA+ Empowerment Self-Defense

Pitt Queer Professionals, a Pitt community within the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, created the LGBTQIA+ Empowerment Self-Defense Program to educate LGBTQ+ students on self-defense. PQP is working with SETpoint, a local nonprofit, to organize self-defense training sessions geared toward Pitt’s LGBTQ+ community beginning this fall.

The training sessions will instruct students on how to stay aware of their surroundings, as well as teach de-escalation and resistance techniques that can be used if a situation becomes dangerous. The classes will also offer resources aimed to empower students who may have experienced trauma.

Exploring Black Undergraduate College Women’s Experiences with Sexual Misconduct: Knowledge of Resources, Barriers to Access and Strategies to Improve Engagement and Outcomes

Three medical researchers will work to research sexual misconduct victimization of black undergraduate women at the University. The team includes the principal investigator Lynissa Stokes, a pediatrics postdoctoral student in the School of Medicine, Ashley Hill, a pediatrics postdoctoral student, and Liz Miller, the director of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine within the School of Medicine.

The project description cited the 2019 AAU Campus Climate survey that found black undergraduate women to be at a higher risk of experiencing both intimate partner violence and stalking than white undergraduate women. Black undergraduate women experience intimate partner violence 7% higher than their white peers, at a rate of 23.5% versus 16.5%, and experience stalking 3% more often, at a rate of 14.8% compared to 11.9%. The abstract said black undergraduate women have to contend with racist beliefs that could make seeking out help from campus resources intimidating.

The project team will gather information through listening sessions and focus groups, according to the abstract. They will then work to improve existing campus services in order to offer more resources to those women who may have been victimized by sexual misconduct.

We Hear You, Let’s Talk About It

According to Katie Stumpp, Pitt’s sports camps director, this project focuses on how sexual violence impacts student athletes at Pitt through a combination of education and data review.

Stumpp said the project team will host educational programming events throughout the year to train student athletes on situations surrounding sexual misconduct. She added that at the end of the academic year, a survey will be sent out to ensure the knowledge from the sessions is retained.

The project is a collaboration between Pitt Athletics, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and the student group PanthEars, which works with students affected by hearing loss.