In response to understaffing and other COVID-19 related complications, the Sexual Violence Prevention Project — a recent initiative aimed at combating sexual violence on campus — has canceled all planned programming for the Class of 2023.
Prior to the pandemic, SVPP did not include a junior year curriculum. With the Class of 2023 forming the project’s inaugural freshman group, the SVPP team planned to proceed by “implementing and developing at the same time,” according to project director Amanda Childress.
When the pandemic hit, the staff had to make a choice: utilize their resources to create its first-ever junior programming, or focus on maintaining pre-existing curricula for first-years and sophomores, according to Childress and Student Wellness Center director Caitlin Barthelmes.
Facing a staffing shortage and disruptions related to the pandemic, Barthelmes said the team decided to prioritize the first two years of programming. The Dartmouth first reported that cutbacks were being considered in November.
“I think it’s no surprise that this year has been more turbulent than we even anticipated, with so many specifically [COVID-19] related pivots and shifts and changes,” Barthelmes said. “The amount of bandwidth that we did have on the staff — that we had hoped could be put towards more development and piloting of those experiences for juniors — got a little bit usurped, so that we could appropriately deliver the current programming.”
The SVPP’s core team consists of five permanent members, and an additional hire recently joined the group as a project assistant, according to Barthelmes and the project’s website. While the SVPP has retained its staff throughout the pandemic, Barthelmes said the program “warranted an expanding team.” In an interview in November, Childress estimated that the SVPP would need 12 to 14 full-time staff members to run the program for all four class years.
The SVPP is currently searching for a power and equity specialist, as well as recruiting for the student advisory board. Recruitment for student facilitators will take place next term, according to Childress.
Barthelmes declined to comment on a hiring timeline, given that such predictions were difficult to make even before COVID-19. She added that she is “happy with [filling a team] as soon as possible,” and praised the current recruitment efforts.
“I want to give kudos to the SVPP team,” Barthelmes added. “Any time they are doing a search, they go above and beyond to ensure that they are recruiting the most diverse candidate pool possible, and they continue that search until they feel they have widened that pool enough to ensure the best caliber, as well as the best mix of types of folks who could serve in those roles.”
Cia Gladden ’23, a SVPP student facilitator, said the current staffing issues have been mentally challenging, given the weight of the issues that SVPP takes on.
“At least once a week, there would be no one ready for one of the sessions,” Gladden said. “Usually me or one other person who would fill in … For me, doing it more than once a week was really difficult. Talking about [sexual violence] all the time can take a toll. You just have to stop at some point and try to find somebody else who will do it for you because it’s hard to talk about.”
Childress echoed Gladden, noting that the team has had to take on new responsibilities in response to staff constraints, as well as rethink current and upcoming projects.
“The team’s been stepping up in different places,” Childress said. “Our Student Advisory Board and our student facilitators have always been a really big help and support in taking on some different components and pieces.”
The decision to suspend junior year programming comes near the seventh anniversary of the Moving Dartmouth Forward Plan, an initiative launched in January 2015 “aimed at eliminating high-risk behavior and increasing inclusivity while strengthening Dartmouth’s longstanding commitment to leadership in teaching and learning,” according to its website. The SVPP was launched as part of the plan, and after several years of pilot programming, the Class of 2023 was expected to be the first class to complete four years of it.
Barthelmes said the project’s leaders hope to partner with students to design future programming, aiming to solicit input from juniors this year.
Elizabeth Hadley ’23 said she thinks getting student input is “a really great idea,” and added that the SVPP team could receive more responses by advertising its initiative in central campus locations or by incentivizing students with a gift card lottery.
Although juniors can still be involved in planning, Gladden said she thinks programming “should continue as much as possible,” noting the importance of sexual violence prevention on Dartmouth’s campus.
“I think everyone needs that reminder that sexual violence isn’t something that just goes away when you choose to stop thinking about it,” Gladden said. “For some people, it’s an ever-present thing, it’s always at the front of your brain.
While Hadley agreed that sexual violence prevention is a “really important topic,” she said she understands why the project would want to prioritize an in-person experience — which she said she views as more effective — for first and second-year students. She added that she feels she “learned enough in the first two years,” the first of which was in-person and the other virtual.
Before winterim, the team intended to hold in-person training after break, but high case numbers on campus led to new deliberations. Childress said first-year experience coordinator Amber Strock and student facilitators are currently finalizing winter plans. As of now, the Positive Relationships and Sex workshop will be held online, while the Bystander Initiative will be held in-person but pushed back to week four.
Although the adjustments have not been ideal, Barthelmes said she hopes students will show “grace” in a difficult situation.
“One thing I’ve always valued about the Dartmouth community is our care for each other,” Barthelmes said. “I’m thankful to be a part of a community that has that mutual respect and understanding for each other. I think that we will continue [to help] our students in building their skills and capacities for creating safer, healthier spaces here at Dartmouth. It just looks a little different now.”