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MSU takes action to address campus culture

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Michigan State University has launched a new effort based on one of the actions outlined in the Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Strategic Plan. The goal is to transform MSU's culture as it relates to instances of relationship violence, sexual assault or abuse, sexual harassment, and stalking. It's the Support More initiative.

“The Support More initiative is a critically important communication initiative that focuses on providing guidance for how respond to disclosures of relationship violence or sexual assault or sexual misconduct on campus, and it helps our faculty, staff, and anyone contacted to respond to those experiences in an empathic manner. It promotes the availability of related campus resources and services,” says Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. “This really grows out the work of several outstanding faculty at MSU who have developed trauma-informed approaches to responding to people who've undergone one of these events.

“I'm really grateful to the RVSM Expert Advisory Workgroup. Their members have been dedicated to this work, and I’m grateful to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Division of Victim Services for support of this work through a Victims of Crime Act grant award. You can learn much more about this at the Support More MSU website. Again, it's an important program, and I encourage you to go to the site because there are ways in which you can help make a difference in this important problem.”

Dr. Katie Gregory is a faculty member in the Psychology Department and co-director of the Support More project at MSU. Gregory concurs with President Stanley that Support More is about changing the culture at MSU and giving Spartans the tools to make a difference.

“Really what this is about is helping change the culture at MSU and about how we can give people the tools to respond when a friend or a colleague has disclosed that they've experienced relationship violence or sexual assault,” Gregory says. “We look at this in two directions. We want to support people by giving them the language to appropriately respond. If somebody's disclosed, what can you say to be supportive of that person? And we want to educate our community about the resources available to help survivors.”

How does a person know they need your services?

“Part of the journey of somebody who may have been assaulted is that they may not know whether they were”, continues Gregory. “They may not have a way to define what they've experienced and talking to other people is a way to help figure that out. Programs on campus include the Sexual Assault Healthcare Program, Center for Survivors, and MSU Safe Place. We also have the Employee Assistance Program and Gender and Sexuality Campus Center. Those are programs on campus where people can go to talk to somebody to figure out what's going on and to get services and help.”

MSU is striving to create a trauma-informed culture and to help our community respond to survivors of relationship violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and or stalking in an informed and caring way.

“Being trauma-informed means meeting people where they are,” says Lauren Wiklund, a fourth-year student in the Clinical Psychology PhD program at MSU. “It’s believing what a survivor says has happened to them and meeting them there and providing them support on their terms.”

Who can take advantage of the resources you offer?

“The majority of the services on campus are for students, faculty, and staff,” says Gregory. “But the Sexual Assault Healthcare Program is also for the larger Greater Lansing community. People can come in if they've experienced an assault and get medical care right at the program on campus. MSU Safe Place is also a program that provides services to the Greater Lansing community.”

How can one help another person who has experienced relationship violence and sexual misconduct?

“The first step is just to listen and say that you are there for them and let them know they can share with you as much or as little as they want to at that point in time,” Wicklund continues. “Let them know that you believe them and you're there to support and help with whatever decision they might make or to listen as they maybe explore and talk about what happened or what they might want to do, even if they're not at the decision-making point yet.”

“And we know that friends and family and even professors sometimes can be the first people who are disclosed to by somebody,” adds Gregory. “Having the right words and the right language is so key in helping people move on that trajectory of healing. It really opens that door to then talk about what else they may or may not want to do in terms of accessing services.

“It is often scary to hear when somebody's experienced domestic violence or sexual assault. There are so many opportunities to be supportive. One of the things that we're trying to do with this initiative is actually show people what they can do. And we've built out a lot of materials where people can actually see examples. So we have videos on our website showing how people say supportive language. The nice thing about having all these programs on campus is that if you don't know how to support someone, you can go to a program and say, ‘I don't know what to do.’ And they're there to help. This is not something that anybody should do on their own, be it having been a survivor or supporting a survivor through this process.

“The great thing about this project is that we've received funding from the State of Michigan through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and their Division of Victim Services program. They have been very supportive in seeing the vision that we must change campus culture. They've been very invested in this, and they want to see it be successful.

“The approach that we've taken with this is not just thinking about having people from the RVSM Workgroup be the ones who are pushing this forward. We've really worked hard to engage who we call community partners on campus. The programs that provide services to survivors are the MSU Sexual Assault Healthcare Program, Center for Survivors, MSU Safe Place, Employee Assistance Program, the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center, the Title IX office and MSU Police.

“We've had people from those programs come to meetings and provide feedback on the materials that we've created. We’ve asked community leadership what we may be missing. Should we be doing more? This is how we've been able to get traction and get support for this, to make sure that there are a lot of people involved.”

“RVSM affects our whole community,” Wicklund adds. “It affects all of us. We want folks to know that we're here. There are a lot of resources on campus, and we're working hard to change the culture on campus so that everyone can be a part of making MSU a safer place for everybody. MSU is a big campus and there are a ton of resources. Part of Support More is letting folks know exactly what resources there are. That approach can help demystify some of that process.

“Realistically, you're more likely to tell a friend or a TA or a close professor that something may have happened to you before you even get to the step of accessing those resources. We really want to provide this Support More language for those first responders, the people who you disclose to first, to not only help bridge that person on their healing journey to the campus resources, but also start that process with them with the very first thing that they say in response.”

“This initiative really is focused on survivors and on the people who they're disclosing to,” says Gregory. “We want to be supportive and let survivors know they're not alone going through this and that we have a community on campus to support anyone who has experienced it and anyone who is supporting somebody who's experienced it. This is for students, faculty and staff, and the greater MSU community.

“If we’re successful, we are going to see the culture change. The supportmore.msu.edu website has links to all of the resources on campus, and we have a page that talks about how to support someone - what to do and what you can say to really help somebody when they've disclosed that they've experienced violence.”

MSU Today airs every Sunday morning at 9:00 on WKAR News/Talk and Sunday nights at 8:00 on 760 WJR. Find, rate, and subscribe to MSU Today with Russ White on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows. And please, share this conversation if you're so inclined.