Women and Gender Center provides support for sexual assault victims


Parthenon file photo

The Women and Gender Center is located on the first floor of Prichard Hall. The center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Marshall University’s Women and Gender Center is working to provide resources and support to students who are victims of sexual assault.

“We definitely want to be able to reach students before they get here, while they’re here and with educational opportunities around these concerns,” Leah Tolliver, director of wellness and gender programs, said. “We are advocates for our campus to be a better and safer place.”

Tolliver said the Women and Gender Center partners with other university resources, including the Counseling Center, the Student Conduct Office, Title IX Coordinator, Student Affairs, Housing and Residence Life, as well as Student Advocate and Success Specialists to widen its reach of support on campus.

“We also partner closely with CONTACT Rape Crisis Center,” Tolliver said. “They are an off-campus site and not necessarily part of Marshall University, and we also partner with Branches Domestic Violence Shelter.”

These resources are not only for Huntington’s campus; South Charleston, Point Pleasant and Teays Valley sites also have programs that offer support to sexual violence victims.

Tolliver said it is important to provide a helping hand to those who are recent victims of sexual violence, relationship violence or stalking situations, as well as those who may have experienced it in the past.

“I know there are many people who come to campus who have already experienced violence, and maybe this is the first time they feel that they can talk about it or seek support,” Tolliver said. “So, I want to let them know that we are very interested in helping and supporting them in that process, as well.”

Tolliver said training allies on bystander intervention is also an important aspect to keeping the community safe.

Various training sessions are provided throughout the spring and fall semesters for Marshall students, staff and faculty.

“Bystander intervention is key. When you see somebody, or a situation, that you’re not too sure about, we want to look at how to intervene safely, for ourselves and for the other person,” Tolliver said.

Tolliver said using the “three D’s,” which are directly intervene, distract or delegate, can help when analyzing a situation.

“Delegate really means calling someone in authority, in a sense,” Tolliver said. “Sometimes you can delegate by telling an RA, sometimes by calling the police, just some way to intervene where somebody else is involved.”

Depending on the situation, Tolliver said, directly intervening could also be an option, however, she advises the bystander to proceed with caution.

“We never want anybody to get involved in something that puts them in danger or makes the situation worse,” Tolliver said. “If we all take on the responsibility, so to speak, to make our campus safer and to help each other out when we’re concerned about each other, we will have less of these situations happening, and even if they happen we will have more people helping that person get support.”

Tolliver said if a student experiences sexual violence, the first step moving forward is to ensure that they are safe and physically okay.

“If that means that you need to go medically checked out or if you need to go to an evidence kit collected, you do that at the hospital,” Tolliver said. “That can seem very scary for people, so we have an on-call staff with the Counseling Center who will be able to go with you.”

The next steps, Tolliver said, are to find emotional support and consider reporting the incident.

“We always encourage people to report to law enforcement, and we want to encourage people to report to the school, because there are two separate entities that will investigate. There’s the criminal aspect, and the school also has an obligation to investigate, which is through Title IX, and that is not criminal, but something the university needs to be aware of,” Tolliver said. “Then we can look at different options that will be able to provide interim measures of protection or support for the reporting party.”

Those who need help, support or would be interested in working to spread awareness of sexual violence may contact Tolliver at [email protected] or Claire Snyder, coordinator for the women and gender program, at [email protected].

Hanna Pennington can be contacted at [email protected].