State funding to end sexual assault will turn bystanders into HEROES

contact: Cheryl Roland
| WMU News

Western HEROES logo.KALAMAZOO, Mich.—More than $60,000 in funds for Western Michigan University announced by Michigan First Lady Sue Snyder Dec. 2 will be used for a communitywide effort to engage all students—especially men, athletes and student leaders—in the cause of fighting sexual assault and develop a critical mass of people on campus and in local schools trained in bystander intervention skills.

The new WMU funds are part of $500,000 awarded to 18 colleges and universities around the state through a Campus Sexual Assault Grant Program championed by the first lady and appropriated by the Legislature at the recommendation of Gov. Rick Sndyer. This is the second round of funding and the second award WMU has received.

The funds will be put to work to dramatically expand the successful Western HEROES program to reach a critical mass of 10,000 on the WMU campus by 2020 and launch bystander intervention training in local high schools. More than 2,500 WMU students and employees have been trained in the past four years to work on campus to:

  • Notice what is Happening
  • Evaluate the situation
  • Take Responsibility by becoming the one who does something
  • Obtain the Education and training to know how to safely intervene, and
  • Step up to make a difference.

According to program coordinators, additional trainees are needed on campus to address a gap in reaching student populations at the upper-class levels and those who primarily live off campus. With additional HEROES, they say, the University will be able to continually reinforce its sexual assault, alcohol and bystander intervention messages throughout students' campus experience. The funds will also enable outreach to local high schools.

"All of the research tells us that if we are going to be successful, it is important for us to engage students long before they come to campus as students," says Dr. Diane Anderson, vice president for student affairs. "This is a societal issue that requires a change of culture as well as giving people the practical tools they need to have an impact among their friends, in their schools and in their communities."

In addition to boosting the HEROES program, the funding will help expand a campus program created last year, Gentlemen United, that targets the kind of culture change needed to curtail assault.

"We need everyone to step up, but we’re focusing on the unique opportunity men have to make an impact on power-based violence," says Cari Robertson, WMU's director of health promotion and education, who led a team effort to develop a request for funds from the state. "We need to get more men involved in ending sexual assault."

For men, Robertson says, the Gentlemen United program will build skills focused on how to take action when witnessing inappropriate comments or risky behavior. The program is designed to help men go beyond helping strangers and commit to intervening with their friends and peers.

The new funding will support the continuation of a coordinator position and curriculum revision and recruitment efforts for Gentlemen United. For the HEROES program, the new funding will be used to develop a train-the-trainer curriculum and hold trainer seminars, develop a communication and marketing strategy, conduct bystander training for target audiences, and produce and distribute training videos. The same type of bystander training will also be offered by WMU student leaders for high school students along with trainer sessions for high school teachers and staff to develop their own bystander intervention programs.

Training will be open to all students, faculty and staff, administrators, coaches, and teachers from WMU and high schools in counties surrounding WMU.

For more information, visit wmich.edu/healthcenter/healthpromotion/bystander or contact Robertson at shc-heroes@wmich.edu or (269) 387-3263.

Michigan's Campus Sexual Assault Grant Program

The grant program aims to change the overall culture of sexual assault among the college-age population. Twenty-nine applications were received this year, totaling more than $924,000 in requests.

"For the second year in a row, I am excited that colleges and universities across Michigan will be empowered to do more to help prevent sexual assaults on their campuses," First Lady Sue Snyder said in announcing just over $500,000 in new grants. "The energy and enthusiasm displayed by these schools proves how necessary this funding is. We must continue to do everything we can to ensure our college and university campuses—our students' homes away from home—are safe."

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.