Interpersonal Violence Peer Support Program launching next fall

Catherine Marfin

After spending a year working with Voices Against Violence, radio-television-film sophomore Mia Goldstein began paving a new way for student survivors of interpersonal violence to navigate support resources at the University.

“I realized the way we support survivors on campus is much weaker than the way we educate and work to prevent interpersonal violence,” Goldstein said. “There’s not much in terms of basic support.”

Goldstein is currently the president of VAV, a Counseling and Mental Health Center sponsored student organization that provides interpersonal violence prevention and response programs on campus. After collaborating with Linda Serna, women’s and gender studies senior and VAV student coordinator, the two presented the idea for the Interpersonal Violence Peer Support Program to the CMHC, the Title IX Office and Student Emergency Services.

Nearly one year after their initial meetings last spring, IVPS has become a reality.

IVPS, which will officially launch next fall, is a confidential peer support program in which volunteers will be trained to assist fellow students who request support, resources and information on reporting options regarding interpersonal violence. Interpersonal violence situations include sexual assault, dating violence and gender discrimination.

Starting next fall, students will be able to schedule one-on-one meetings with a peer volunteer through the IVPS website.

“It’s about increasing access, decreasing barriers and decreasing fear around reaching out and getting support,” said Lauren White, health education coordinator for VAV. “It’s the isolation that is the most re-traumatizing experience, feeling like you don’t have anyone to reach out to or anywhere to go. Statistics show that the first people that survivors reach out to are peers, are people in their lives. This program is really jumping off that concept.”

Peer volunteers, whom the three offices are currently in the process of hiring, will be required to complete 50 hours of advocacy training before the program launch. During advocacy training, volunteers will be educated on reporting procedures and legal services, both in the community and on campus.

While the CMHC and University Health Services remain confidential reporting options, the goal of IVPS is to create a more basic support program for students to gather information and reporting options through confidential peer volunteers, who can provide guidance without triggering a university report or investigation as required by Title IX laws.

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in education. Under Title IX, University employees are required to report instances of Title IX violations to the University — meaning that few resources exist for survivors to gather information on interpersonal violence without triggering the official Title IX process.

“Once we started to get together (with Goldstein and Serna) and look at what other schools were doing, we saw that we had that gap,” Title IX Coordinator LaToya Smith said. “(IVPS) allows students to talk to a peer who is educated on the process and their rights, and then the student can decide for themselves if and when they want to notify a responsible employee or Title IX coordinator.”

IVPS plans to hire 10-15 peer volunteers to provide support four hours per week. Students can apply to be peer volunteers online through the Dean of Students website until March 3.

Correction: The orginial version of this story lists VAV as an agency of the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center. It is actually a Counseling and Mental Health Center sponsored student organization. The Texan regrets this error.