After a month-and-a-half-long search, Student Affairs has installed a new coordinator for its Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education office.
Michele Welker, who took over 47 days after former coordinator Mary Koch Ruiz retired on Sept. 30, will head the SHARE office. Welker started in the position Nov. 16, Student Affairs said in a release Wednesday. Before Welker accepted the position, Student Affairs conducted a search, and Koch Ruiz stayed in her position part-time. Koch Ruiz still maintains a private psychology practice in Squirrel Hill.
Welker will also work on the university’s Sexual Assault Task Force, a group of administrative leaders Pitt formed in May 2014 to combat sexual violence on campus. Welker will work closely with Pitt’s Title IX coordinator, Katie Pope, in leading the university’s efforts to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct, the release said.
At Pitt, the SHARE office serves as the catch-all resource for any student who is a victim of sexual violence and employs a staff of trained counselors.
As a counselor and social worker, Welker previously served as the family services coordinator and office manager for Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, a local non-profit organization that assists low-income homeowners with critical home repairs.
Welker has also completed nearly 80 volunteer training hours with the Pittsburgh Action Against Rape.
Welker holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a certificate in women’s studies from Ohio University, and she also earned a master’s degree in social work with a specialization in women’s studies from Ohio State University. She is also a licensed independent social worker.
Kenyon Bonner, interim vice provost and dean of students, said Welker’s experience and passion make her right for the job, according to the release. Previously, Welker has served as a clinician at the St. Vincent Family Center in Columbus, Ohio, providing counseling services for parents of children enrolled in the agency’s pre-school partial-hospitalization program, the release said. She also worked as a clinical social worker for North Central Mental Health Services in Columbus, and as a case manager for the women’s shelter CHOICES for Victims of Domestic Violence.
Starting with a letter from Chancellor Patrick Gallagher in February this year, Pitt has increased its efforts to fight sexual violence on campus. In September, Pitt released the results of its campus-wide sexual assault survey with the Association of American Universities.
According to the survey’s data, 21 percent of women respondents said they had experienced nonconsensual touching or penetration during their time at Pitt. Of the men who responded, 6.1 percent said they had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact.
Welker said, at Pitt, her overarching goal is to help victims of sexual violence heal and move forward with their lives.
“‘Information is power’ is truly my personal mantra,” Welker said in the release. “I’m looking forward to helping our students acquire the information they need through programs, such as bystander intervention training, so that they can be as safe as possible on this campus.”