After a tumultuous semester with alleged rapes of USF students and the emotional response that ensued, the USF community will soon be opening a women’s resource center. This will be called the “Peer Educators Women’s Resource Center (PEWRC)” and will be turned over to students to operate.
According to Mary Wardell, dean of students, the PEWRC will most likely open by the end of April. She said that the Center was a result of the student-led campus forums addressing rape and sexual assault.
Wardell said, “This center is a response to what [Rev. Privett, S.J.] heard the students say.”
The campus forums that addressed rape and sexual assault were responses to the Ryan Caskey alleged rapes that were reported two months ago. At the forums, students coordinated and worked together for approximately six weeks to take initiatives on several things that they felt needed to be done, one of which was establishing a center.
“What inspired me to become a part of this movement were the stories of survivors of sexual violence, many of whom are very close to me,” said Erika Carlsen, student and active member of Students Taking Action Against Sexual Violence.
Carlsen also said: “If it’s well publicized it could be an incredible resource to women on campus.”
The issue of publicity came up with the last PEWRC. Years ago, USF actually had a PEWRC named WIRED. According to Wardell, the problem with WIRED was that of access and sustainability; WIRED was a service in the dorms that was not located in a “high traffic area.” As a result of a lack of access, sustainability became difficult to maintain and WIRED eventually closed.
To rectify past mistakes, the new PEWRC will be established in a high traffic area of the UC building. “It’s not the biggest place,” said Wardell, “but it’s very visible.” The center will also be staffed by graduate nurses who are paid; however, that is only one model, said Wardell. She explained that establishing the center would allow students interested in the reduction of violence against women, and other issues such as reproductive health, to come together and share ideas about the programs that the PEWRC would develop overtime. She said, “The operation is starting without any new financial resources, so our collective ideas and commitment to the center will be important.”
Organizing with students and various working groups, the process has actually been quite speedily and garnered much support. Steve Nygaard, director of the Office of Residence Life, said, “Sexual assault and violence against women is a national issue. A PEWRC can only improve and assist awareness and prevention efforts at USF.”
According to Nygaard, the Center can also have benefits for dorm life. He said, “The PEWRC will be a helpful asset for working with Residence Hall students through passive and active programs.”
As for the center itself, Wardell has said that it would be a place where information and resources on sexual assault can come together. She distinguished the PEWRC as different from typical counselors because it would be student-run. According to Wardell, peer-to-peer assistance has shown to be highly effective.
Carlsen envisioned the center as a “space where women can access a variety of resources and enter a space that is safe for comments, questions, and concerns.” She also wished for it to be a place “full of resources about how to ensure women’s emotional, physical, and sexual health.”
When asked whether the PEWRC would be able to solicit condoms, something which Health Promotion and Services does not do due to the University’s Jesuit affiliation, Wardell laughed and said, “Well, we’re going to find out what we can do.” Wardell reiterated that operating the center would be extremely difficult but ultimately rewarding. Nygaard shared her sentiment by saying, “I think the PEWRC has the potential to be an excellent resource for students.”
He concluded, “One model that might be a next step would be a Gender Equity Resource Center which might also focus on LGBTQ and men’s concerns.”