Women's Center works to prevent and raise awareness of sexual violence

N. E. Langhorne
July 16, 2014

womens-center-works-to-p Universities across the nation have become focal points in the fight against sexual violence. The Obama Administration earlier this year established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault with orders to strengthen federal enforcement efforts and provide schools with additional tools to combat sexual assault on their campuses. Sexual violence prevention and awareness initiatives at Elizabeth City State University are administered through the university's Women's Center. The new director of the center is preparing for fall semester activities now. "Broadly speaking, the goal is to prevent and reduce sexual violence on the university's campus. That's to raise awareness and also to make people understand how to prevent violence, and that includes stalking, domestic violence, dating violence and sexual assault," said Kathryn Gigler, the center's director. The Women's Center is funded by a three-year, renewable grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women. The center is responsible for initiatives including the founding of the Albemarle region's first LGBTQ organization, bystander intervention training for students, staff and faculty, the Vikings Against Violence website and program and the education of judicial and law enforcement agencies on best practices for handling cases of sexual violence. Among the center's first on-campus events last spring was bystander intervention training, which provides strategies for safely intervening in situations that seem unsafe. "For example, if they're at a party and they see someone who's been drinking a lot and it seems like someone else is trying to encourage that person to drink more, it shows them different ways that they can step in and stop that situation before it gets any more dangerous," Gigler said. Despite its name, the Women's Center services the entire university community. "The center is open to all students, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity," Gigler said. "These issues affect everyone. Not all victims of sexual violence are female. A lot of victims are male. We want to make sure these people have access to services they need, too, and that these people get the attention they need." Expanded programming is planned at the center as it enters its first full year of operation, according to Gigler. All incoming students - freshmen and transfer and graduate students - will participate in an intervention education program. Workshops discussing dating violence, red flags in relationships, bystander intervention training and the importance of consent also will be held in freshman residence halls. The Women's Center has partnerships with community organizations like Albemarle Hopeline, a local domestic violence shelter. On-campus partnerships with sororities and fraternities and other organizations and efforts to mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April and Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October also are planned. "There are a huge number of partners in the community working with us," Gigler said. "We're trying to get community buy-in, get a lot of students, faculty and staff involved in events. This is an issue that is important, and this is an issue that has got to change on every campus in the country." A certified rape crisis counselor, Gigler said students are welcome to come in to the center to discuss any issues. Support groups, reading lists, a reading library and a video media library will be available. She also can refer students to community organizations that offer specialized support for various situations. Gigler currently is finishing her doctorate in psychology at Northwestern University. She worked on that university's Campus Coalition Against Sexual Violence to revise university policy and plan programming related to the awareness and prevention of sexual assault and relationship violence on campus. She also worked for the YWCA of Greater Chicago as a rape crisis counselor on the city's crisis hotline and as a medical and legal advocate for survivors of sexual assault and relationship violence. She said the entire ECSU community, from senior administrators to students, has been supportive of the Women's Center and its initiatives. "Everyone here is just really behind changing the attitude and the culture of the area for the better," she said. A Charlotte native, Gigler said she is excited to be back in her home state. "I was really looking forward to a small campus where I could actually affect change," she said. "I'm really happy to be here working with students. We're lucky to have a really good group of students and people who are really involved in making things change." For more information about the Women's Center, email womensenter@ecsu.edu or call 252-335-8535.