‘Needed to be more robust and urgent’: A year later, rollout of Center for Gender Violence Prevention & Intervention falters, students say

Last April, Duke announced the establishment of a new center tasked with expanding the University’s sexual assault prevention and intervention efforts. Named the Center for Gender Violence Prevention and Intervention, it promised to offer therapeutic services to survivors of gender violence, deploy “peer educators and facilitators,” and partner with student leaders to both curb and address sexual assault on campus. 

At a university where nearly half of its female undergraduates in 2018 said they had been sexually assaulted since enrollment, student groups — like the Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention & Education (SHAPE) Initiative and Duke Sexual Assault Prevention Team (SAPT) — have led the charge to eradicate sexual violence on campus in recent years. The establishment of the center, announced by Student Affairs, seemed to respond to students’ calls for reforms. At the top of their list: greater support from administrators in the student-led fight, as well as more resources that focus on prevention, rather than post-sexual assault response. 

But a year after Duke’s announcement about the center, progress has moved slowly, with some saying most of the responsibilities of sexual assault prevention still rest on the shoulders of student groups. The center currently does not have a permanent director, even though the search for one began last spring. It has no office on Duke’s campus and communication about it has been sparse. Students have expressed uncertainty about how to access it. 

“I don’t think anyone was anticipating the GVPI Center to be delayed,” said junior Ashley Bae, vice president of Duke Student Government’s Services and Sustainability Committee. Bae, who is also part of SHAPE, was involved in discussions with administrators about the center as a DSG representative. 

“The response needed to be more robust and urgent...” she added. “For the entire [fall] semester, people were relying on word of mouth on where to go in the case they needed a clinical resource for sexual assault purposes.”

Associate Dean of Students Victoria Krebs has been the interim director of the GVPI Center since February. There will be a national search to fill the position and the center “aim[s] to have the position filled permanently next semester,” according to Krebs. 

Duke searched for a director last summer and early fall, but “the timing of the search did not yield the candidate pool” needed for “transformational change,” wrote Mary Pat McMahon, vice president and vice provost of student affairs, in an email to The Chronicle. 

The University has signed a contract with a search firm to hire a director for the center. 

“It has been steady progress but certainly not as fast as anyone on our team would have liked to see,” McMahon wrote of the progress of the center at large. 

The work of the GVPI Center

Duke moved GVPI’s responsibilities out of the Women’s Center and into the Dean of Students Office in Student Affairs as an independent center to allow the Women’s Center to focus on gender equity work, Krebs wrote. The GVPI Center utilizes a model where “intervention, prevention, outreach and response work” all occur under one central office to inform one another and “produce accurate, targeted prevention efforts designed to address specific issues and trends at Duke.”

In fall 2022, Amy Johndro, the gender violence intervention coordinator and a confidential resource within Counseling and Psychological Services, worked with 38 students, according to Krebs. The GVPI Center provided outreach for approximately 137 reports between August 2022 and March 2023. In 2022, the center conducted over 75 programs and reached over 10,000 members of the Duke community, according to Krebs.

Providing outreach entails reaching out to the complainant, offering to meet, outlining available supportive measures and explaining the option to file a formal complaint, according to Krebs. Programs include training for groups on campus, such as student organizations, teams, departments, graduate schools, residence halls, cultural centers and classes. 

Six staff members provide gender and intervention services at Duke, according to the Student Affairs website. They include Krebs, Johndro, Adriene Allison, the deputy Title IX coordinator in the Office for Institutional Equity, April Autumn-Jenkins, the gender violence prevention coordinator, and two Balthrop-Cassidy fellows, Corey Pilson and Bailey Bogle.    

Dean of Students John Blackshear, who has been at Duke since 2001, wrote that he “can say without reservation that we are far down the road than we were just a couple years ago.” 

“It is understandable that unless one has built an essential yet complex operation, it is impossible to understand the labor that has already gone into providing training to more students than we ever have and to providing, FINALLY, true confidential clinical supports to students dealing with sexual assault trauma,” Blackshear wrote in an email to The Chronicle.    

McMahon added that Student Affairs was appreciative of SHAPE leadership’s help in “the process of getting GVPI up and running.”

‘It isn’t anywhere. It’s just a website and some people’

But student leaders expressed mixed reactions to the announcement and implementation of the GVPI Center. 

Bae noted that when Duke first made the announcement last April, there was “confusion as to why” these resources would be relocated into their own center. She realized after talking to staff at the Women’s Center that because “sexual assault at Duke is so pervasive that so much of their work was on gender violence intervention,” this change would allow them to prioritize women’s empowerment work. 

However, Bae called the implementation of the GVPI Center “unacceptable,” noting that information about the center was not sent to students until the end of the fall 2022 semester. 

McMahon and Vice President for Institutional Equity Kimberly Hewitt plan to send a message to all students with a reminder of “resources around GVPI supports and structures” this week as part of Sexual Assault Awareness month, according to McMahon. 

Bae also pointed to the “challenge of visibility” for the center — it has no physical space, rendering it just “a collection of people from around the University.” 

“[Students] don’t know how to access GVPI. They’re like, ‘Let’s stop by the Wellness Center,’” she said. “But it isn’t in the Wellness Center, because it isn’t anywhere. It’s just a website and some people.” 

The lack of clarity around the center has continued to leave much of the responsibility of sexual assault trainings to SHAPE and SAPT, some say. SHAPE is a student advocacy organization working to eradicate sexual violence at Duke, while SAPT is a group of members from Durham IFC and Panhellenic organizations working to prevent sexual assault in Greek life and across campus.

Senior Amelia D’Agaro, SHAPE’s Greek life and SLG director, echoed Bae’s sentiment, expressing frustration with the rollout of the center.

“It’s definitely disappointing for them to come out with a program and then not have someone coordinating the program or having a central form of communication about the program,” she said. “We feel that it's an extremely urgent matter. This is something we've been asking for for two years now."

In recent demands, SHAPE has called for administrators to close the “large information gap” by sending regular communication to students about sexual assault prevention resources and establishing a dedicated communications team leader for the GVPI Center. 

At SHAPE's suggestion, the University has started including a link to all Duke Student Affairs resources at the bottom of the Student Affairs and Office of Undergraduate Education newsletters, per McMahon. 

D’Agaro said she feels that Duke is still trying to figure out “what they want to do with that center.” 

A January meeting with the Sexual Assault Impact and Listening Committee — which seeks to bring students and administrators together to discuss administrative decisions — was supposed to focus on updates on the GVPI Center. Administrators canceled it and rescheduled for March as there were not any “major shifts in the GVPI efforts since our last meeting,” according to D’Agaro.  

Still, some students say they have found the center’s resources useful, such as additional trainings about supporting survivors or what to do if a friend is accused of sexual assault. SAPT’s co-presidents particularly commended Johndro, the gender violence intervention coordinator who was hired in August 2022, and her work in coordinating trainings. 

“I think we had a lot more concerns about Duke’s restriction on allowing those resources to have access to Greek life now that they’re disaffiliated, [but] honestly the experience that I’ve had is that they are pretty open,” said SAPT Co-President Matthew Hawkins, a junior, noting the red tape surrounding the university’s direct acknowledgment of disaffiliated Greek life organizations. With their disaffiliation, these groups lost access to official University resources, trainings, and group accountability structures. 

‘Filling in the gaps’

SHAPE and SAPT see their work as “filling in the gaps in education where we feel the administration hasn’t done that,” D’Agaro said. 

SHAPE, founded in 2018, provides one to two hour educational and training sessions to all student organizations on campus. These trainings are evidence-based and aim to be as “trauma-informed, survivor-centric and skill-building as possible.” They cover various topics surrounding sexual violence, such as campus rape culture, the elements of consent, how to support survivors, bystander intervention and organizational accountability.

SAPT also started in 2018 when the founders noticed a “huge sexual assault problem, particularly within Greek life,” Hawkins said. The initial goals were to institutionalize policies and regulations in places that the University cannot operate as well. 

Prevention — through the pre-rush training, as well as sober sister and sober brother training where they explain techniques that members can use to mediate social gatherings — is SAPT’s primary function. However, they also offer support for anyone that has experienced sexual violence by providing emotional support and directing them to Duke or non-Duke resources, per the co-presidents.

SAPT also works with organizations seeking to launch investigations into allegations to “be sure that those investigations are carried out properly,” Hawkins said.

In December 2022, disaffiliated fraternities and sororities, and the all-male selective living group Wayne Manor, announced they would require all potential new members to attend mandatory pre-rush training from SHAPE and SAPT — an initiative spurred by conversations between the two student groups.  

“Ideally, this would be something that the administration would help us with,” D’Agaro said. “But it's hard to know where the administration stands on working with Greek life organizations.”

Student leaders acknowledged the benefits of having sexual assault prevention trainings be led by fellow students.

“Coming from a student perspective and a student voice can sometimes help people engage more with the training and the conversation, and then also understand the language behind what it means to be in a sorority and in a fraternity,” D’Agaro said. “We can connect well with those students and really get to the root of what is making them disengaged from these trainings.” 

Hawkins expressed that students are often more comfortable working with other students “your own age that are your friends.”

According to SAPT Co-President Maddie Dawson, a junior, the organization is uniquely situated to create training that is geared towards what will “help students the most” because they “inherently know problems and situations that happen that adults just don’t.” 

Bae added that students have unique positioning that allows them to bypass barriers that the University faces when interacting with disaffiliated Greek life organizations. 

“I think there is something so special about having students train students. I think there’s a level of trust and engagement that I don’t really foresee with an admin-led training,” she said.

Krebs wrote that in the past, student interns have worked alongside professional staff to deliver programming and training. 

“We are in the process of evaluating options and developing a variety of job opportunities for students in GVPI,” she wrote. 

But as SHAPE has grown and gained credibility on campus, students have come to rely on them in ways beyond their control. Some, for example, will come to them with legal questions or want to report a sexual assault case. SHAPE members are not trained Title IX coordinators and cannot accept official reports.

“Students sense that we’re almost a student court or something,” D’Agaro said. “It’s been hard for us when people come to us with issues and they assume that we can resolve them and mediate them.” 

In some cases, SHAPE will refer students to Johndro, who serves as a clinician in CAPS and works with students seeking counseling or emotional support. If someone is looking to report an incident, SHAPE will direct them to an ombudsperson for students. 

Bae noted that students remain confused about where the prevention work in the GVPI Center comes into the picture. 

“We feel that a lot of the prevention work has been put on students, like SHAPE,” she said.

D’Agaro echoed this, saying that SHAPE has been doing “a lot of work that the administration probably should be.” 

In addition, student-led trainings can only go so far, Bae said. Student groups cannot give the GVPI Center a physical space, give it more visibility, or have a student experiences survey be sent out — all of which are demands SHAPE has recently posed to administrators. She called for more “university-level support for student groups” doing sexual violence prevention work.

Bae admitted that there are policies in place that make the work of sexual assault prevention difficult for administrators, such as the disaffiliation of Greek life and selective living groups. 

“I think that is where students can come in,” she said. “But I think students need to be recognized for their labor. Ideally, students will be compensated for their labor that they’re putting in to ultimately make this university safer.”  

Further demands

While administrators conduct a national search for a permanent director for the GVPI Center, students have plans to continue the conversation about sexual assault at Duke and lead trainings. 

Dawson described the changes SAPT produces in Duke’s culture as incremental and slow.

“It’s really hard to see our work play out in positive ways,” she said. “I have to believe that it is, and I know that it is.” 

In addition to a physical space and permanent director for the GVPI Center, SHAPE’s demands include continued sexual assault education for all students during their time at Duke, reformed orientation week programming, greater communication and transparency of campus resources and information, and updated sexual violence statistics. 

“We want to see the day when Duke doesn’t need SHAPE,” wrote the student group in a guest column. “Until then, SHAPE will be on the front line igniting cultural and institutional, survivor-centric change.” 

Kathryn Thomas profile
Kathryn Thomas | News Editor

Kathryn Thomas is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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