By Erica Quinones
A new peer-support program to educate the Washington College community on Title IX issues will launch by the fall 2020.
The Peer Sexual Misconduct Advocacy and Response Team (Peer SMART) is a group of 10 to 15 students who are trained to engage the campus community on topics like sexual misconduct, healthy relationships, and consent, according to Assistant Director of Student Engagement and Sexual Assault Response Advocate (S.A.R.A.) coordinator Sarah Tansits.
The team will assist Tansits in collecting information, providing resources to students, and walking those students through the process of reporting and receiving help for sexual assault instances, according to Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and the College’s Title IX Coordinator Dr. Candace Wannamaker.
The expectation is not for students to become counselors, but to provide resources to peers in need.
Peers will manage a 24-hour hotline, which is the same number as the S.A.R.A. phone, and will man a spot outside the Student Affairs suite in the Casey Academic Center.
Dr. Wannamaker said they want the space to be a comfortable and quiet area for students.
Students can use the hotline and physical space to obtain information about resources needed to address a litany of topics from abusive relationships to homesickness.
Dr. Wannamaker said that the program is utilizing peers because students often talk to peers about sexual assault since they are “on the same playing field.”
The program is focusing on peer education to stimulate engagement within the student body.
Peers are not available to take calls yet because the eight current members are training for their roles on topics like communication skills, active listening, and understanding Title IX, as well as practicing role-playing situations.
The learning experiences provided in training sessions will not end when peers become operable, as they will have group meetings in which peers can talk through their experiences, keeping subject anonymity, and discuss their responses.
When the peers become active on the hotline, they will walk callers through a scripted response, during which they will inform the caller that they can stay anonymous while assuring their immediate safety.
When the caller is secure, peers will gather information about the incident like where, when, and what happened, then walk students through the resource process, discussing what the caller wants to do next.
Peer SMART members are mandatory reporters, meaning that they must report sexual assault incidents to the proper authorities — those being Dr. Wannamaker and Tansits. This does not mean that the victim must press charges or take additional steps if that is not what they desire.
“The scariest thing is that students think that once they tell somebody, they lost control of it, and that is the myth we are trying to dispel. Students still get to control the process,” Dr. Wannamaker said. “Just because I have your name does not mean you have to do anything; it just means I have the opportunity to provide resources you may need.”
Peers will not only function in their dedicated space, they will also lead educational programming across campus like the “Consent is” campaign in April. These programs may take place in residence halls, as full-campus forums, or through table events in Hodson Hall Commons.