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Grant Will Help Keep Students Safe

December 1, 2021
Photo: Calvin University

Calvin University is expanding its efforts toward keeping its campus community safe with assistance from a grant from the The U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence against Women (OVW).

The OVW grant funds proposals which aim to reduce domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking on campuses.

Joining them in this effort with be the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD), Safe Haven Ministries, and the YWCA.

“Sexual violence is not just something that happens outside of our community. Keeping students safe on our campus has always been a top priority of ours, and at Calvin, it’s truly a team effort,” said Sarah Visser, vice president for student life at Calvin. “This grant allows us to continue to strengthen these efforts, in collaboration with our amazing community partners, while further equipping our students to step up and lead.”

Equipping and supporting students

Calvin will use the $300,000 in funding over the next three years to create a Peer Education and Empowerment to Reduce Sexual Violence Team (PEERS Team). This team will provide peer education, awareness, and connect to students seeking ongoing help after sharing an experience of sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, or domestic violence.

The team will also strengthen victim services on campus, implement culturally and linguistically appropriate educational programs to reach traditional and underserved groups, and obtain technology for cyberstalking investigation and response.

“We are looking forward to expanding the ways we support our students, and we know that the more expertise and experience we can draw on, the better,” said Visser. “We are eager to work with our external partners who will offer wide-ranging support options for our students and community to prevent and respond to sexual violence.”

Expanding partnerships

Partnerships with the GRPD, Safe Haven Ministries and the YWCA organizations will provide student internships and trainings aimed at helping PEERS students deepen their understanding of prevention of these crimes, to acquire knowledge of local resources that respond to these situations, and to develop a new lens on survivor experience through connecting peers to appropriate support resources.

“We applaud Calvin University for taking meaningful steps to expand their current work. It is critical that victims of sexual assault, stalking, or dating abuse have access to the supports they deserve. That must happen alongside culture change efforts aimed at prevention,” said Charisse Mitchell, CEO of YWCA West Central Michigan.

“The PEERS Team approach is designed to achieve both, and we are so pleased to be working with Calvin, Safe Haven Ministries, and the Grand Rapids Police Department on such an important effort.”

“Feelings of guilt and shame can make it difficult for victims of sexual violence to come forward and to help law enforcement hold perpetrators accountable,” added Eric Payne, GRPD chief. “Calvin University’s willingness to build a culture of sexual violence awareness and prevention while also improving access to support for victims is to be commended.”

And Rachel VerWys, executive director of Safe Haven Ministries, remarked: “Safe Haven Ministries values collaboration because multi-sector partnership creates the possibility for innovative and critically needed response to the pervasive issue of violence. 

"This award will build on foundational work the partners lead to prevent violence against women and bring our community and Calvin University to the next level in the work to increase trauma- informed solutions.”