WISE advocate to begin work at the College this summer

by Lauren Budd | 5/25/15 7:44pm

A WISE advocate will begin working at the College this summer to help students, staff and faculty affected by domestic violence or stalking, following an agreement between Dartmouth and the Lebanon-based non-profit.

The campus advocate will be a WISE employee, not an administrative or College employee, WISE executive director Peggy O’Neil said. WISE serves 21 towns in the Upper Valley, including communities in New Hampshire and Vermont.

The role of the campus advocate is to be an on-campus resource to provide support for students, faculty and staff at the College who are impacted by sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, O’Neil said. The advocate will also work to build a formal liaison relationship between WISE and Dartmouth, she said.

“WISE and Dartmouth have had a long and rich history of working together,” O’Neil said.

The addition of the advocate will formalize this relationship, she added, allowing WISE to extend their services on campus.

The role has not yet been filled, O’Neil said, though the job announcement will be released this week. She said she hopes to have the position filled by July 1. The advocate will also have to complete WISE’s training program and spend time with the existing advocacy team at WISE to gain experience, she added.

“The campus advocate will be one of several of us who will be actively working with the College to make sure that WISE’s service are more available,” O’Neil said.

WISE will also be working with Dartmouth to more thoroughly integrate their 24-hour crisis hotline as a campus resource for the entire community, O’Neil said. The hotline makes an advocate, though not necessarily the campus advocate, available to community members at any time, she said. The on-campus advocate will be available during regular work hours, she said, and will work to connect these two resources.

O’Neil said there was not a specific point in time when the idea for a campus advocate came about, and that the conversation with alumni and students had been going on for years now. Most recently, she said that the addition of Title IX coordinator and Clery Act compliance officer Heather Lindkvist and the visit of Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., gave her the opportunity to publicly share how important she thought a formalized collaboration between WISE and Dartmouth would be. The “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiative also outlined the hope to enhance Dartmouth’s partnership with WISE.

O’Neil also highlighted the fact that the White House has emphasized the value of colleges working with local crisis centers to combat sexual assault.

“It’s been many people over a really long time who have wanted to see this happen,” O’Neil said.

WISE assistant director Abby Tassel said that the addition of the campus advocate makes confidential support services available to the Dartmouth community in a way that they had never been before.

“Students have been able to call our crisis line and been able to work with an advocate, but sometimes Lebanon, New Hampshire, feels really far away from Hanover for students at the College,” Tassel said. “It’s really about having greater access.”

Crisis centers such as WISE have a type of confidentiality covered by legal statutes, Tassel said. Every state has a law covering crisis centers, which affirm that organizations that make up the statewide coalition, in this case the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, can train advocates and hold them to a level of confidentiality that makes it “almost impossible” for a survivor’s information to be shared with anyone, Tassel said.

She said that legally, this is a key distinction for allowing survivors to feel comfortable in coming forward and considering their options as they proceed.

“It just gives them a level of safety and flexibility while they figure out what’s going to be best for them,” Tassel said.

She clarified that this confidentiality does not mean that WISE is against working with the legal system, but rather that it allows the program to show a survivor all of their options so they can be fully informed when determining what will be best and making any decisions, including potential legal proceedings.

This is a crucial difference between College services, she said, as people who are employed by the College are required to share some information with the institution. With WISE employees, information is only released when the survivor requests so and signs a release, Tassel said.

WISE at Dartmouth chair Caeli Cavanagh ’14 said that having an advocate is important due to the level of confidentiality they can provide. She also said that there are a number of people on campus who do not trust campus services because they believe the College has a conflict of interest, and having an outside resource would be beneficial for them.

“I think the more colleges can collaborate with off-campus resources, the better,” Cavanagh said. “It really shows a commitment to having the most options for students and for survivors.”