First Responder Splits off into Peer Health and a Brand New Initiative (by Holly Gonzalez and Delia Titzell)

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As of the start of the 2014-2015 academic year, the group formerly known as the First Responders have changed their name to Sexual Misconduct Advocacy and Resource Team (S.M.A.R.T.) The name change comes as an effort to reduce confusion of the group with an emergency medical or first aid team. S.M.A.R.T. hopes that the name change will prevent the student trainees from being mistaken for EMTs and called in the event of a medical emergency. “If you call, we will of course do our best to help you,” said Nick Tosini, a sophomore and a member of S.M.A.R.T., “but we might not be your best resource if your call is about a broken arm.”

The group is now under the direction of Kristen McGeeney, the College’s Title IX coordinator. Previously, the First Responders and Peer Health Educators received a lot of the same training and were managed by the sexual assault/wellness advocate. Now the groups operate as separate entities, which focuses the attention of S.M.A.R.T. on addressing sexual misconduct issues on campus.

Under the direction of the Title IX coordinator, the members now operate as “responsible employees.” When a student calls the S.M.A.R.T. phone they are able to remain anonymous, but the information shared in the conversation will be logged and reported to the Title IX coordinator and will only be shared on a “need to know” basis. Previously, the group was considered a confidential resource to students. The implementation of mandatory reporting is an effort to increase the response of the College to sexual misconduct issues. Senior Dylan Hadfield, a former First Responder, said, “Many people who have experienced sexual violence just want to talk. Some of them only want to go to counseling. Not all victims want an investigation. People have to think from the point of view of a survivor who might rather go over a list of resources with one First Responder and choose what they want to do. That is essentially, for me, the big difference between mandatory reporting and the original First Responders’ role I signed up for.” Kristen McGeeney provides clarification on the changes in confidentiality. “When a report of sexual misconduct (in any of its many forms) is made to the College, the victim/survivor doesn’t lose control of what happens afterward.  Our process is set up to support our students and provide a fair and equitable process to those involved.  We provide options and resources, formal and informal resolution, and seek to provide the tools with which victims and survivors can make informed choices for themselves about what options they want to pursue.”

Students also have other resources. Rachel Honig, the current sexual assault advocate, is available to talk in a confidential setting in Chance Hall. The Peer Health Educators also have drop in office hours in Chance Hall on Mondays in which students can talk through their stresses with a peer.  S.M.A.R.T. members offered themselves as a resource during new student orientation, and were present for anyone emotionally triggered by the “Sex Signals” performance. They also assisted in the “About Last Night” performance by informing students about different scenarios regarding sexual misconduct. Additionally, during the week of September 8, 2014, S.M.A.R.T. assisted with bystander intervention training; which is now a requirement for new students in their core classes as part of their 5th hour component.

Due to the quick implementation of the changes, many students have been left unaware of what the changes mean for the future. “This is the first I’ve heard of getting rid of Green Dot…” said Dylan Hadfield who is currently studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland. The removal of Green Dot comes as a result of the incorrect implementation of  the program at St. Mary’s; which was not in line with the overarching Green Dot program, so the name will need to change in order to prevent violation of their rules. Kristen McGeeney, emphasizes the ongoing importance of bystander intervention in preventing sexual violence on campus in the midst of the elimination of Green Dot. “This doesn’t mean that we should do away with bystander intervention education–in fact, it’s a critically important piece of our overall strategy to prevent violence on our campus. What we need to work on now is either the groundwork for a future re-launch of Green Dot under the requirements of the program, or building a new bystander intervention program by using the concepts behind Green Dot and applying our own unique St. Mary’s perspective.”

“Whoever is the harmed victim we are on your side 100 percent; it doesn’t matter how long ago it happened or what time of day you call, we are going to do everything in our power to help you every step of the way,” said Sam Feller ’15, current S.M.A.R.T member. The S.M.A.R.T. phone line can be reached anytime at 301-934-2015.

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