Alex Morris, senior editor
Two years ago, in the fall of 2006, Warren Wilson College received nearly $200,000 in a grant from the Department of Justice to fund the RISE (Resistance Intervention Safety Empowerment) Project. Since its establishment in January of 2007, RISE Coordinator Kelly Kelbel and her crew have worked in an assortment of ways to address issues of sexual assault and violence. Kelbel said that since the start of the program over 90 people have received support. Due to cuts in funding, the Department of Justice will not reinstate the grant for the spring.
Dean of Students Cathy Kramer originally applied for the grant on behalf of the college, and the money has gone toward addressing issues of sexual assault and relationship violence on campus as well as supporting survivors and friends and family of survivors. The grant also goes toward making the College a safer place overall. Money from the grant was used to fund a card-swiping system for more secure residence halls. The grant also went toward the hiring of Kelbel, who supervises a crew of five students who work with WWC and the surrounding community in addressing everything from issues of consent to understanding relationship violence.
Senior Jake Salt, juniors Emily Standridge, Erin Murphy, Nicole Connor and sophomore Victoria Weiner all work on the crew and are required a minimum of 50 hours in training with local Rape Crisis Center Our Voice and other organizations before they can begin work. The crew has held workshops and discussions and published zines, and Kelbel has personally worked with many students on the issue. She explained that she works with students in a different way than a counselor wouldand has a different level of knowledge and understanding in regards to relationship violence. Along with her undergraduate degree in Women’s Studies and Political Science, Kelbel has previously worked with many different organizations that address domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and women’s sexual health. Kelbel does everything from talking with students about positive and negative sexual experiences to supporting them in court. She has also acted as a resource to students unsure about conditions of consent.
“When I first got to Warren Wilson, I talked to students and alumnus and heard stories about negatives sexual experiences,” Kelbel said. “Some dropped out of college because of it.”
Now that the RISE Project is an available, students have an options besides the counseling center or public safety.
The college saw a noticeable increase of forcible sex offenses for the year 2007, when the RISE Crew was first established. Kramer made it known that though these statistics may seem striking, the results are a positive thing. Students are now taking advantage of the confidentiality aspect that the RISE Project offers.
In 2006 there were no reported sexual offenses, and in 2007 there were 13 reported, four of which had occurred within the previous two years. Kramer clarified that forcible sex offenses could be anything from rape to unwanted sexual touching. These results are listed on the College’s inside page and can be found at http://www.warren-wilson.edu/internal/handbook/studenthandbook2008.pdf. All colleges are required to publish these results under The Jeanne Clery Act and must report them to the Department of Education.
While the results might appear to show that there was an increase of 13 forcible sexual offenses on campus, the security report states that “while we have not experienced an increase in the incidents formally reported for adjudication, we have seen a significant number of students accessing confidential RISE services. The incidents in the Clery report reflect those conversations and account for the increase in the numbers over previous years.” The report goes on to say that “We do not believe that these numbers reflect an actual increase in incidents but instead affirm the very positive step that we are now offering support and assistance that students are using.”
“The highest support systems have the highest numbers,” Kramer said, explaining her take on why the jump is actually a good thing.
As mentioned, the Department of Justice underwent a budget cut this year and was only able to fund 11 to 15 programs. This time, Kelbel applied for the grant, and unfortunately the College did not make the cut. President Sandy Pfeiffer has agreed to fund Kelbel’s position for the spring semester, but funding for the RISE Project next fall is not certain, particularly due to potential budget cuts because of the current economic crisis.
Kramer’s guess as to the actual amount needed to keep the program is approximately $50,000 per year. Kelbel said this would fund her position and printing costs.
“I feel fairly confident that Sandy will do the right thing and fund the program,” Kelbel said.
On Tuesday, Oct. 14, 35 members of student caucus voted unanimously on a proposal that the RISE Project be paid for out of the College’s yearly budget.
“I think it is really important,” Kramer said. “I recognized the need that brought me to write the grant, and even I have been surprised at how high the numbers have been.”
She said that the President’s Advisory Council decides the funding priority, and they do take into account student’s opinions. Kramer emphasized the necessity of a unified student voice. She added that the RISE
Project was very important to the health and safety of the WWC community.
Kelbel is in agreement.
“Warren Wilson has a lot of potential to be this amazing place,” Kelbel said. “I believe it’s possible for violence to not happen on this campus.”