RUSA focuses 1st meeting on sexual violence prevention and alcohol safety
At the first student body meeting of the year, the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) welcomed the new director of the Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) and discussed plans for their program promoting safe drinking habits.
RUSA President and Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy senior Evan Covello began the meeting by welcoming guest speaker Loren Linscott, who joined the Rutgers community as director of VPVA last March.
Linscott, whose experience includes shaping policy strategies and designing programs to address interpersonal violence, most recently worked for the Secretary of the Navy’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
Linscott prefaced his presentation by defining interpersonal violence as a blanket term to include incest, rape, molestation, sexual assault, domestic violence and dating violence. It addresses physical violence, as well as psychological manipulation in a relationship, he said.
In a demonstration of the broad scope of these issues, Linscott asked students to raise their hand if they knew someone who has been victimized by interpersonal violence.
When the majority of the room raised their hands, Linscott appealed to the students.
“I need your help,” he said. “Ninety percent of the people who come into our office have a favorable experience, but only about 11 percent know we exist.”
Linscott stressed the need to work not only with athletes, fraternities, sororities and Residence Life on campus, but also with the students who do not fall into these categories.
“There are 45,000 other students that need to be connected with,” he said. “I’m hoping that starting today we will develop a partnership.”
Addressing his intentions as the new director, Linscott said he plans to expand education and prevention programs to specifically include issues related to stalking, pornography and alcohol — and also to begin a program focused on the psychology behind the predatory behavior.
“Through my direction of this office, we will be addressing perpetrators, and we are going to focus on learning more about them,” he said, citing plans to work with Counseling, Alcohol, and Other Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) and the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD) to begin preventing this behavior rather than solely providing victim assistance.
Later in the meeting, RUSA’s Public Relations Committee Chairman Calvin Ferrara initiated a discussion about the MidKnight Snacks program, which is in its second year.
RUSA created the program last year to combat the dangerous effects of heavy episodic drinking (HED), also called binge-drinking, by providing free food and water to students to protect against high levels of alcohol content in their bloodstream, Ferrara said.
“(The goal is) to better enable a safe environment for students to party in, and get them to think about precautions they can take against binge-drinking, which has a higher incidence during a holiday or local events, like syllabus weekend or Halloween,” the School of Arts and Sciences junior said.
The effectiveness of this program is due to its proactive, education-based approach, he said.
“Our purpose is not to prevent people from drinking, but to help them do it in a safer environment,” Ferrara said. "... We are looking at the long term, trying to affect the mentality rather than penalizing students for drinking.”
He cited disciplinary approaches taken by the University in the past, which were ineffective.
On the night of Saturday, Sept. 9, in front of the College Avenue Student Center, RUSA successfully hosted its first MidKnight Snacks tabling event of the semester.
RUSA volunteers worked 90-minute shifts, handing out water bottles and serving food provided by King Pita Palace located in the College Avenue Student Center. Food options included hot dogs, chicken tenders, fries, mac and cheese, as well as vegan options such as falafel.
The total cost of food and drinks for this event was $3,200, Ferrara said, which covered 1,000 water bottles and enough food to serve 400 to 500 students.
The success of the MidKnight Snacks program provides a useful model for other universities to create a safer alcohol culture.
This program is now being looked at by other schools interested in implementing it, he said, and Rutgers is the first to have done it.
“Before this program was initiated last year, there was nothing else like it within the Big Ten that we know of," Ferrara said. "But recently, I received emails from the student government at the University of Minnesota, a fellow Big Ten school, and they also want to start a program like this.”
Christina Gaudino is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in public policy. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.