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STRIVE coalition to spearhead sexual violence prevention efforts

By Mengqia Liu | Thresher staff     10/6/15 9:35pm

In response to the need for a strong sexual violence prevention program, the Wellbeing Office recruited students to create the STRIVE Coalition: Students Transforming Rice Into a Violence-Free Environment in spring 2015. The group seeks to promote healthy relationships and connect students with resources on campus and is hoping to enact change following the release of results of the Survey on Unwanted Sexual Experiences.

STRIVE is led by an undergraduate executive committee consisting of Jones College junior Alma Almanza, McMurtry College sophomore Madison Blattel, Hanszen College sophomore Rachel Bowyer, Jones College junior Melissa Rodriguez and McMurtry College junior Madhuri Venkateswar. Additionally, the coalition works with student liaisons including the Rice Health Advisors, the residential college Chief Justices, the leadership of the Graduate Student Association and members of the Women’s Resource Center.

Venkateswar said STRIVE is currently focused on creating a sustainable program to address sexual assault prevention.

“We’re going to be a recurring student group to increase communication about sexual assault prevention, serve as an event planning group [and] create something sustainable at the residential college level to make sure that students have resources at their fingertips when it comes to sexual misconduct and sexual assault prevention,” Venkateswar said.

According to Venkateswar, the formation of STRIVE was inspired by Meghan Davenport (Lovett ’15). Davenport worked with Associate Dean of Undergraduates Matthew Taylor on drafting a new sexual misconduct policy last year when she noticed a lack of coordination and focus regarding sexual assault at Rice.

“[Davenport] saw communication between administration and students as a gap, and she saw that a lot of groups on campus were focused on sexual assault as a tangential concern but no group saw it as their primary concern,” Venkateswar said. “That’s what the goal of this group is. This is our primary concern.”

Davenport said she is excited to see the formation of the group and hopes STRIVE can generate positive change. “I hope everyone on campus eventually knows the group and what it does and feels that it’s an issue that is discussed out in the open and ultimately that the climate is improved as a result,” Davenport said.

Almanza said STRIVE will operate by coordinating existing resources.

“We can connect students to resources, but we personally do not offer counseling or other services,” Almanza said.

Venkateswar said STRIVE is still working on establishing connections among various groups on campus and plans to have a point person at each college who can be a resource for students on sexual misconduct policy.

“We are in the process of talks with the head RHAs, and we will eventually take this to the Student Association and college governments,” Venkateswar said. “[College representatives] will also serve as a liaison between the CJs, the presidents and the RHAs, and as a sounding board with the adult team.”

Once the connections are established, STRIVE intends to hold various events to encourage students to play an active role in eliminating sexual violence, according to Venkateswar.

“We envision the college liaisons holding a lot of events at the residential college level which can span from study breaks to having discussion about community values to holding events together with the RHAs,” Venkateswar said. “We also envision holding maybe one big event during the year so people can connect themselves with the Title IX Office and know that it is not a scary place, that it is a resource for students.”

Bowyer said the group plans to reach out to incoming students in the future. “We also hope to be involved with [Orientation Week] next year with potential talks and affiliates,” Bowyer said.

According to Rodriguez the group not only aims to reduce incidents of sexual misconduct but also to encourage healthy relationships.

“We want not only improvement in the sense that we are not seeing these kinds of issues arise but that people are experiencing their relationships, sexuality and sexual lives positively,” Rodriguez said.

Venkateswar said STRIVE is looking forward to the campus-wide effort to end sexual violence at Rice.

“The numbers that came out of the survey [are] unacceptable,” Venkateswar said. “All of us will be working together to move forward and create a safer environment here.”

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