SAPA sees shift in leadership this term

by Alyssa Mehra | 1/14/16 9:50pm

Sexual Assault Peer Advocates met this week to discuss the future of the program, after undergoing a shift in leadership last term. Starting this term, Liz Stahler, a counseling and human development staff counsellor, will lead the educational component of SAPA, as well as design the training for the program.

Previous leader Ben Bradley, a survivor advocate, has shifted to working more with prevention of sexual violence, he said. Michelle Kermond, in the Office of Pluralism and Leadership will now help organize the individual SAPAs.

Bradley said he does not have a clinical license and was therefore not considered a confidential resource in court. Under Title IX and the Clery Act, the College is required to keep a record of reported incidents of sexual assault, dating violence and gender-based harrasment. Resources available to support students are classified as either private or confidential. Private resources are required to report incidents to the College’s Title IX and Clery Act compliance officer, Heather Lindkvist. In contrast, those resources deemed “confidential” may not release any information shared by an individual unless granted express permission.

Because the goal of SAPA is to best serve students affected by sexual violence, it made sense to make the shift, Bradley said.

“We feel that this process has gotten rid of what we hope is a lot of the ambiguity around who’s confidential and who’s not,” Bradley said. “Now people know that Liz is a confidential resource.”

Stahler was an obvious choice for the position because of her background as a counselor with a specialty in supporting survivors of sexual violence, Bradley said. Her work as a therapist best equips her to train the SAPAs on how to be effective and positively impact survivors, he added. This change in leadership is in line with a number of the other shifts Dartmouth has made to create the most accessible process for survivors, Bradley said.

Kermond will be helping to support and organize the SAPAs as they work on initiatives on campus like V-February and and Sexual Assault Awareness Week.

Though technically the leaders will now be working within counseling and human development and OPAL, there will still be a strong relationship with the wellness center, said Bradley, who now manages the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative.

SAPA Deidra Nesbeth ’16 said the combination of Stahler’s skills in counseling and Kermond’s expertise in programming with be an asset to SAPA, and will reinvigorate the program.

“There has been a lot of change in leadership in the wellness center administration in general and I think that it’s finally getting to the place where it is stabilized, which means that SAPA can get their faces out there,” said Nesbeth.

SAPA Megan Mounts ’18 said SAPAs do not report to the school, so they have the ability to be completely confidential and really be a friend to people in need.

“What SAPA really is, is they’re people on campus that other students can access if they don’t know who to talk to,” Stahler said. “They were created around the idea of sexual violence but they are people with this really incredible set of skills that can help people in times of crisis.”

Nesbeth emphasized the importance of the role of SAPAs on campus.

“SAPA let’s people know that you are not alone and that there is a place to be heard,” Nesbeth said. “Often in issues of sexual violence people’s power is what’s being taken from them and to give them a space to reclaim that power by being someone they can listen to I think is very valuable and a very important resource.”

SAPAs go through a 32 hour training, which was most recently held last spring. The next training will take place in the coming spring, Stahler said.

Nesbeth said the coming training may facilitate more interaction between the new potential SAPAS and those who have already been trained.

Once a student applies to the program and is accepted, they can enroll in the training, which is held in the 2A class time slot. During the workshops, the students have seminars, listen to guest speakers and work through scenarios with Dartmouth staff leaders, said Mounts.

Because of the shift from response to prevention, it made sense for the SAPAs to be trained by staff who are doing response work, Bradley said. Though the leadership is changing, both Bradley and Stahler agree that the goal of the training, which is to best equip the SAPAs to support other students, will stay the same.

“Ben Bradley for all that I can see put together a really tremendous training,” Stahler. “Certainly it will look a lot like it looked previously but now that it has a new person doing it I would imagine it will be flavored by Liz instead of flavored by Ben.”

Bradley said the point of the trainings is to teach students an in depth and concrete understanding of the nature of sexual violence, relationship violence, sexual assault, stalking and harassment. Students also learn how that plays out at Dartmouth and gain the components of some of the inter-personal skills that will help them support other students and connect them with other resources if they want, he said.

Because Stahler and Kermond were only appointed in the fall, the program was in a period of transition. The group is now starting to work together to decide what they want for the future of the program this term, Stahler said.

Mounts said the larger overall goals of the program at the moment are to let people on campus know who they are and what they do. Stahler echoed the same sentiment.

Stahler said that SAPA’s next focus will be increasing its presence in the community. She emphasized the SAPA role as a person who a survivor can talk to when they are unsure how to proceed, citing the training SAPAs go through as strong preparation for that kind of role.

SAPA is also focusing on creating sustainability within the program, Mounts and Nesbeth said. Due to changes at the administrative level and members of the original program going on off terms or graduating, the program is now in the process of rebuilding, Mounts said.

Nesbeth said they intend to appoint a student leader to SAPA, which she thinks will help SAPA connect with other organizations on campus. She added that another goal of SAPA this term is to work with other student run programs on campus who are passionate about the same issue.

“Internal leadership will be super helpful in keeping SAPA active even when there might be changes in leadership on the administration level,” Nesbeth said.

Bradley said he is optimistic about the future of SAPA.

“I think under Liz and Michelle’s support, the SAPAs can hopefully provide even more support to other students and be an even greater used resource and continue to positively impact our campus in really great ways,” Bradley said.


Correction appended (Jan.16, 2016):

This article originally stated that Liz Stahler was no longer a part of counseling and human development. In fact, Stahler will continue her position as a staff counsellor in addition to her new involvement with SAPA training.