Northwestern struggles to fill CARE positions while center remains understaffed

Olivia Exstrum, Assistant Campus Editor

The search to fill the two still-vacant positions at Northwestern’s Center for Awareness, Response, and Education hasn’t been an easy one.

After an unsuccessful search during the summer, Lisa Currie, director of Health Promotion and Wellness, said NU had to begin again from scratch.

CARE hired a part-time temporary survivor advocate, Carrie Wachter, in October, but Currie said the lack of full-time staff for NU’s sexual assault prevention and response efforts has led to a “frustrating” gap in services.

Wachter is focused on providing advocacy for sexual violence survivors, Currie said.  However, Currie said, other work in sexual violence prevention, including initiatives planned under a federal grant NU received in September, has been put on hold while the search for full-time staff members continues.

Currie said Wachter has seen about 15 students so far this quarter. During the 2013-14 year, 78 students used CARE’s services, and she said she expects the center is “on track” for a typical year. However, since the number of students has grown every year since CARE’s inception in 2011, Currie said it is likely there will be an increase in students this year.

“Where we haven’t been able to focus any attention on is prevention education, other than what we always do with our incoming students,” Currie said. “All the work that they would normally be doing in this time of year through Fall Quarter has all but been erased because we haven’t had anybody in that position.”

Hiring efforts

Currie said CARE expects to hire a survivor advocate, a position previously held by Eva Ball, before the start of Winter Quarter and fill the assistant director position, previously held by Laura Anne Haave, soon after. Initially, administrators had hoped to replace Haave by October.

The center has scheduled on-campus interviews for finalists for the survivor advocate position and is putting together a committee for the assistant director search. The search committee will include representatives from groups that will work closely with the staff member, such as Multicultural Student Affairs, the Department of Campus Inclusion and Community, Residential Life and the Women’s Center.

Olivia Seligman, communications chair for Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators, said the organization was initially concerned about CARE’s lack of resources, especially when new students arrived on campus in September.

“SHAPE was most nervous about this transition during the Essential NUs because often that performance and discussion can make people want to access those resources,” the Communication senior said, referring to the mandatory presentation about sexual health for new students during Wildcat Welcome. “We were nervous about what resources we were offering to people.”

Seligman said other organizations, like the Women’s Center and Counseling and Psychological Services, have done a good job of providing resources to students, but she is concerned that CARE, which directly addresses with sexual assault, is not fully operational.

Currie said the center is doing “everything we can” to hire the right people for the jobs.

A variety of factors have contributed to difficulties of the search. Fall is “not the best time” to be recruiting, and the relative novelty of these positions on college campuses has put universities in the United States in an unusual situation, Currie said.

“There’s a plethora of positions about there, more than I’ve ever seen in my almost 20 years in the field,” she said. “It makes it a buyer’s market … It has nothing to do with Northwestern and everything to do with what’s going on in the field.”

The Red Zone

CARE’s gap in services coincides with the “Red Zone,” a period of time from the beginning of freshman year to Thanksgiving break that some say puts students, especially freshmen women, at greater risk of sexual assault.

Numerous articles, most notably a July 2014 story in The New York Times about a sexual assault case at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York, reference the Red Zone. The concept is based on research done by clinical psychologist David Lisak about college men who commit sexual assault, said Haave, who left CARE this summer for her current position as director of the Gender and Sexuality Center at Carleton College.

“Those studies show that college men do tend to seek out people who are more vulnerable and easy to take advantage of,” Haave said. “Frankly, freshmen women could seem easier to victimize. I think the entire idea of the Red Zone is predicated on that research.”

Several universities feature Red Zone-centered programming for new students. Amanda Gibb, a senior at Utah State University who interns at her school’s Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information office, said the university held an event in September to raise awareness of the Red Zone and the resources available for new students.

“The reason behind it is that freshmen are coming out, gaining independence, going to parties and drinking,” Gibb said. “Unfortunately, things like sexual assault do happen.”

Haave said because little data exists to prove the Red Zone occurs on all college campuses, she is hesitant to accept it as fact.

She said there are many reasons why the concept’s claim could be true — new students don’t immediately have a strong friend circle, can be eager to meet new people and may not have experience with alcohol — but the idea that sexual assault is more likely during a specific period could have harmful effects.

“I think it gets into the scaremongering,” Haave said. “It makes other people think that, ‘Oh, I’m not a freshman woman, therefore I can’t be victimized.’”

Two of the most-cited studies on the Red Zone, both published in 2008, found mixed results. One study, “Risk of Unwanted Sex for College Women: Evidence for a Red Zone,” selected 50 first-year and 52 second-year female students at a university and found that first-year women were at higher risk for “unwanted sexual experiences” than second-year women, especially early in fall semester.

However, the other study, “‘The Red Zone’: Temporal Risk for Unwanted Sex Among College Students,” found that risk was significantly higher during the fall semester of students’ second years, during fraternity and sorority recruitment at the university in the study.

“It seems to me that the takeaway message here, given a lack of uniformity, is that it’s dangerous to assume that what’s true on some campuses is true on all campuses,” said psychology Prof. William Flack, an author on both studies who works at Bucknell University. 

Flack said he recommends that rather than providing additional education during that period, universities concentrate on consistent, year-round programming that focuses not on the actions of potential victims, but potential perpetrators. In addition, he suggests that colleges conduct internal studies about assault trends on their own campuses.

Currie said although she doesn’t have data about the existence of the Red Zone on NU’s campus, she believes the start of the school year is a “major time of transition” and that could correlate with potentially higher incidence of sexual assault.

“People deal with transition in very different ways,” she said. “People really want to try things out … Some other students might look at them and say, ‘That’s somebody who’s vulnerable, and I can take advantage of that vulnerability.’”

NU does not have Red Zone-specific programming, but SHAPE holds discussions and introduces resources to new students after Student Body, the sexual health ENU. Incoming students are also required to complete an online program before arriving to campus.

Currie said people tend to think about safety education during big events like Dillo Day, but not during the transition period.

“Could more be done?” she said. “Yes.”

Looking forward

This past spring, CARE created a strategic plan for the next five years, including what Currie calls a “four-year curriculum” for students. She said the goal of the curriculum will be to adapt programming based on students’ years and experiences.

“The goal of the four-year curriculum is to be constantly dosing people with information and keep the message out there about how everybody can be a part of that conversation, how everyone can participate in that culture,” she said.

In addition, the center is creating a new position focused on men’s engagement in issues of sexual violence. Currie said CARE will most likely advertise the position in January, if an assistant director has been hired.

“Our goal is to find a male or male-identified person to fill that role,” she said. “That’s our ideal and that we can create more opportunities for men to engage in the work.”

Currie said CARE would also like to engage in more marketing and campaigning efforts, as well as prevention and outreach programs. She stressed that although CARE’s smaller staff has slowed down its work in recent months, the center is still very present on campus.

“I hope that students don’t think that CARE has suddenly evaporated,” she said. “It hasn’t. It’s low-level for the moment, but we’ll be back.”

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Twitter: @olivesocean

Previous stories on this topic:

    CARE hires temporary survivor advocate while continuing search
    Survivor services on pause as CARE fills vacancies
    CARE reports increase in students using its services
    Northwestern receives federal grant to fight sexual assault