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WISE to Open Dartmouth Office

Friday, May 22, 2015
Hanover — Dartmouth College has reached an agreement with WISE, the Upper Valley nonprofit that provides crisis counseling and other services, to place an advocate for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence on campus.

Beginning this summer, a crisis center will be staffed by a full-time WISE employee who will serve as a liaison between the nonprofit’s main office in Lebanon and the college community. Among many responsibilities, the new official will counsel survivors and provide information on ways to make a police report or receive medical treatment.

“We have an ongoing relationship with Dartmouth College for many years now, and we have tons of experience and expertise supporting survivors,” said Peggy O’Neil , executive director of WISE, “so we’re very pleased to be bringing our expertise to the campus.”

Victoria Nevel, a junior at the college who holds leadership roles in several campus organizations working on the issue of sexual violence, said the partnership was a “really great” step.

“Something cool about this is this person will be able to provide crisis support as well as long-term support,” which is less readily available at Dartmouth, she said.

The arrangement has been discussed since at least November, when the college hosted a round-table forum on campus sexual assault that included O’Neil, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., student advocates, college administrators and area police.

Amid a raft of reforms announced in January targeting student life, including the prevention of and response to campus sexual assaults, Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon said he intended to seek a closer partnership with WISE.

Previously, college officials had announced plans to hire an independent team of sexual violence investigators, launch a bystander training initiative and adopt a sanctions policy that mandates expulsion in the most serious cases.

John Damianos, a junior, said he had pressed for an on-campus advocate from WISE while he served on the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” committee, which provided recommendations for Hanlon’s initiative.

“The biggest and most important thing is to have someone not affiliated with Dartmouth be a resource for students,” said Damianos, who has worked with other organizations addressing sexual violence on campus. “A lot of survivors don’t feel comfortable coming forward and using the college’s resources.”

Damianos said confidentiality is a major concern on campus, and having WISE on campus will be reassuring.

The school’s Title IX coordinator, Heather Lindkvist, called the presence of an outside advocate “really key,” since state statute protects confidentiality of the individual’s work.

“It makes good sense,” Lindkvist said of the WISE office on campus. “The person can be an individual for the entire campus community.”

Lindkvist will help train the new WISE employee, according to O’Neil.

The Title IX coordinator, who helps keep the college in compliance with federal regulations and best practices on discrimination, noted that the whole Dartmouth community, including staff, faculty and students, may make use of the advocate’s services.

Many of the college’s existing resources, including the survivor advocates working under the dean of the college, are geared primarily toward current students, especially undergraduates, she said.

Although a White House sexual assault task force, in a report titled “Not Alone,” recommended that colleges coordinate with local crisis centers, there is no federal mandate that holds institutions of higher education accountable to do so, Lindkvist said. All the same, the practice is not unusual, in her experience: Her most recent employer, Bates College, in Lewiston, Maine, had a similar arrangement, as do the University of New Hampshire and Plymouth State University.

Dartmouth in recent years has reported higher numbers of rapes in its annual safety disclosures, a rise that administrators attribute to increased reporting as students feeling more comfortable speaking out. Lindkvist, who compiles the safety disclosures, said the WISE advocate has agreed to share anonymous statistics with the college on the complaints the new crisis center receives.

Though the Dartmouth-WISE agreement marks the beginning of a formal relationship between the two parties, the crisis center has had an unofficial presence on campus for some time. A program called WISE@Dartmouth offers students internships with the nonprofit where they receive training in crisis counseling and answer calls for the center’s hotline.

Nevel, the Dartmouth junior, has trained with WISE and recently helped WISE@Dartmouth to expand its work on campus by hosting performance arts events and founding a support group for survivors of sexual violence.

The latter initiative “has the potential to be a powerful group,” Nevel said, because it gives people who may not know of each other a chance to share their experiences and find a base of support on campus.

The support group “gives us the opportunity to say: This isn’t just happening to me, this is happening to my friends, this is happening everywhere and this is something that needs to stop,” Nevel said.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at or 603-727-3242.

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