The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday January 18th

Carolina Women's Center to receive additional staffing and money

Lines. There are sometimes lines of sexual assault survivors waiting for Cassidy Johnson, the only Gender Violence Services Coordinator on campus.

After Christi Hurt, director of the Carolina Women’s Center, described this to the UNC Board of Governors in December, they told Hurt it ‘sounds like you need hundreds of Cassidys.'

Hurt laughed, but the board wasn’t joking.

“They said, ‘No really, how many?,” Hurt said.

When the Board of Governors’ working group released their final recommendations on Feb. 18, the Carolina Women’s Center was the only one of 237 centers and institutes that the board proposed for additional staffing and money.

The full board is meeting today for a final vote on the recommendations, including recommendations for the discontinuation of three centers. 

Hurt told the board the Carolina Women’s Center needs five additional Gender Violence Services Coordinators. The review called for a six-month study to determine the exact number necessary.

“Our specific mission was to be sure that we have an adequate number of counselors on staff at that center, as they indicated they were woefully understaffed and not meeting the needs of students,” said Jim Holmes, board member and working group chairman. 

Holmes said the Carolina Women’s Center was the only center that identified needing more staff.

“You’re looking at a campus with 20,000 plus students, at a rate of 1 in 5 survivors of violence who are women — not to mention men, or people who experience childhood trauma,” Hurt said.

“Our counselors would still be a drop in the bucket, in terms of crisis intervention work.” 

A three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women is funding Johnson, the Gender Violence Services Coordinator. Hired during the summer, Johnson has a unique role: she can provide support and resources, as well accompany and refer sexual assault survivors to other services in campus and in the community.

She’s one of three confidential resources on campus and the only person equipped specifically to deal with interpersonal violence.

“Students find often that Cassidy is a safe person to go talk to, if they are trying to figure out what to do next,” Hurt said. “Talking to Cassidy doesn’t require anybody to do something next — it’s a non-committed kind of interaction."

The board also recommended the Carolina Women's Center share practices with other women’s centers, though Hurt said the center does work with women's centers at other system schools.

Hurt said the recent review delayed the search for a new director. Hurt is now Assistant Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff in Student Affairs, but still serves as director of the Carolina Women’s Center. The center interviewed four candidates in November.

Since the summer, the center has hired three new staff members. Clare Counihan is the new program coordinator for faculty and staff. The role of program coordinator for students and Johnson's position are new.

The Women’s Center was created in 1997 to ensure gender is not a barrier to anyone’s success on campus, serving students, faculty and staff. 

“The Women’s Center has had peaks and valleys in terms of its growth, just like University has," Hurt said. "At one point in time before my tenure, it was much bigger, and then it was smaller. Now it’s slowly chugging away again.”

Madelyn Frumkin, co-chair for Project Dinah, said losing the Carolina Women's Center on campus would send the message that the campus had achieved gender equality, which Frumkin said is not true. 

"The women’s center is not only an advocate for students, staff and faculty, but also a safe place on campus for people — whether they feel marginalized, they are in danger, or can simply share their experiences and find commonality.”

Hurt said federal regulations probably encouraged the board to consider expanding the Carolina Women’s Center. There is an ongoing federal investigation at UNC.

“I do think that the federal context shifting across the whole country is encouraging universities and university systems to think big picture about what they really want to build on campus,” Hurt said. “And those federal requirements are absolutely, I think, part of why universities are looking at expanding these services.”

university@dailytarheel.com

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