New York Colleges Are Fighting Campus Sexual Assault In This New Way

by Gianluca Russo


With a light being shone on the plethora of sexual assault and harassment allegations over the past month, a new program developed out of the University at Albany, SUNY in Albany, New York is being made available at the perfect time.

“We wanted to be able to supplement the training that we were doing with students face to face with some online material,” says Chantelle Cleary, UAlbany’s assistant vice president for equity and compliance and Title IX coordinator, “either to introduce them to the subject before they came to in-person training or, in the alternative, to be available to them in the aftermath of the one on one training.”

Not only is sexual assault and harassment a large issue on college campuses, but it often goes unreported due to students being unaware of resources their particular university provides. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, while one in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted during their time in college, 90 percent of victims do not report assault.

With much hard work and support, The Sexual and Interpersonal Violence Prevention and Response Course (SPARC) was developed. Now available for download for free by any college or university, the program is the brainchild of Cleary and aims to assure all students are both educated on what falls under the umbrella of sexual and interpersonal violence, as well as how their specific university will assist and respond to such reports.

Cleary expressed the idea to co-worker Mike Bartoletti, director of enterprise application services for the University’s Information Technology Services (ITS), in an unrelated meeting one day, emphasizing how such a large university like UAlbany should have the ability to create a customizable, sexual assault prevention program.

“There are vendors out there that have some fantastic programs, but none of them are really UAlbany specific…and they’re not entirely customizable. I said to him, ‘Shouldn’t we be able to create something like this on our own? And if so, do we have the capacity and ability to deliver it to our students and track which students have or have not taken it?”

The answer was yes and, together with group of administrators from the SUNY community, the CUNY system and some private colleges in the Albany area, SPARC was on its way.

There are two versions of SPARC: a shorter one (with content created by Cleary) and a lengthy one (with content created by Rebecca Harrington of SUNY Oneonta). “Both programs discuss a little bit about the importance of being an active member of our community,” explains Cleary. “We talk a little bit about being an empowered bystander and the importance of our students and our communities arming ourselves with the tools to be safe and effective bystanders.”

The focus of SPARC, however, is on sexual and interpersonal violence and assuring that students feel safe and comfortable on campus.

“The program, which is customizable from institution to institution, then kind of shifts into an explanation of the individual university’s responses to sexual violence, so…how they will respond in the aftermath in an experience of violence to make sure that the student who has had the experience is supported and is aware of all their rights and options.”

Thanks to Bartoletti and the ITS department working on SPARC’s delivery team, administrators are also able to track which students have taken the course. “Basically what they did was they created the ability for us to have a giant class. So students would be assigned to this class and then would log on to the learning management system and take the course,” Cleary explains.

On October 24, 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that over 140 colleges have already downloaded the program with over 250 more universities looking into SPARC now. UAlbany in particular is currently piloting the program to fantastic results and will implement SPARC with its next group of incoming students.

“My hope is that it becomes one of the first things that they are exposed to so that they will join our community with the understanding that this is an university that takes sexual and interpersonal violence seriously, that we’re a university that talks about these issues and that we’re an university that faces prevention and response head on,” says Cleary.

She adds, “We know that it’s happening on college campuses across the nation. I hope students get the understanding that we care and that we are going to do our best to support them and provide them with the tools so that they can play a role in preventing violence.”

Top photo: SUNY Central by Joel Kramer via Flickr Creative Commons

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