Sharon P. Smith, PhD, president of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, was among the 13 college and university leaders from Allegheny and Westmoreland counties who participated in a series of 14 videos speaking out against campus sexual assault.
“We want to address the root cause, and that’s why our work with the Blackburn Center is so essential,” said Smith. “If we foster an environment where every member of the community understands that violence is not tolerable, that awareness will be carried by our students where ever they go. We want them to understand that an individual can and should make a difference, now and always.”
The public launch of the video series featuring 13 area university presidents declaring zero tolerance for abuse on campus and encouraging students to report and seek assistance occurred Monday, September 11, at the University Club (University of Pittsburgh). There college and university leaders in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties united with community organizations, advocates and state and local officials to reaffirm their commitment and report on the region’s progress in addressing campus sexual assault.
The academic leaders featured in the videos represented Carlow University, Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University, Community College of Allegheny County, Duquesne University, La Roche College, Point Park University, Robert Morris University, Saint Vincent College, Seton Hill University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, and Westmoreland County Community College
According to the Department of Justice, one in five female undergraduates and one in 14 male undergraduates have reported experiencing sexual assault while in college.
“Change starts with leadership from the top,” said Kristy Trautmann, executive director, FISA Foundation. “In Southwestern Pennsylvania, college and community leaders are stepping forward in bold new ways to work collaboratively with a focus on prevention and ensure that victims of sexual violence are met with respect and support.”
The program included a video address from Gov. Tom Wolf, who vocalized his support for the colleges, universities and organizations working to prevent campus sexual assault. Pennsylvania Department of Health Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Westmoreland County Commissioners Gina Cerilli, Ted Kopas and Charles Anderson spoke about the region’s collective commitment against campus sexual assault.
Point Park University President Dr. Paul Hennigan, Chatham University President Dr. David Finegold, Carlow University President Dr. Suzanne Mellon, Seton Hill University President Dr. Mary Finger, Robert Morris University Provost David Jamison and University of Pittsburgh Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement Kathy Humphrey were present to report on the collective policies and practices their universities have implemented as part of their commitment to a safe campus culture.
Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Jan Necessary and Duquesne University Police Chief Tom Hart provided insight from the justice system, and victim advocates Alison Hall, executive director of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR), and Mae Palacios, systems advocate for Blackburn Center, reinforced the importance of protecting victims of sexual assault.
University of Pittsburgh student Maggie Kennedy, a member of the “It’s on Us” Task Force and a member of the Student Government Board Wellness Committee, concluded the program. “Education about sexual violence is incredibly important and I thank you all for the work that you do at your institutions,” said Ms. Kennedy, “but I believe it needs to start much earlier.” She continued, “The toxic entitlement to other people’s bodies and the misogyny of rape culture begins even before high school.”
To view the University Presidents Unite Against Campus Sexual Assault video series and to access Title IX resources for each of the 13 participating schools, click here.
The event and video were orchestrated by Southwest PA Says NO MORE, a growing community of organizations and individuals who are working to end domestic and sexual violence, led the project. FISA Foundation, in partnership with The Heinz Endowments and United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania developed Southwest PA Says No More to showcase the important prevention-focused work happening in this region, and to make it easier for individuals and organizations to take action to stop gender-based violence. More than 25 organizations across the region have partnered with Southwest PA Says No More, including the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.