The Collegian
Sunday, December 05, 2021

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Peer Sexual Misconduct Advisor program marks five years since founding at UR

It has been five years since the Peer Sexual Misconduct Advisors program was founded at the University of Richmond by Alexandra Abreu, WC ‘17, and Claire Comey, WC ‘19, according to a Jan. 24, 2017, Collegian article.

The PSMA program started as a small group that was unknown to many students other than those who heard about it through word-of-mouth, PSMA co-leader and senior Olivia Podber said. 

“Now, we have really prevalent roles to play in [first-year] orientation,” she said. “We're reaching students who enter this university, from the first day that they set foot on this campus.”

PSMAs are students trained in Title IX policy, procedure and emotional support resources who serve as confidential peer advisors to students, Podber said. 

There are currently 14 PSMAs, PSMA co-leader and senior Anna Marston said. PSMAs receive training from the UR Police Department, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Student Center for Equity and Inclusion and St. Mary’s Hospital, she said. 

The PSMA group works to advocate for students impacted by violence or acts on the continuum of violence, Podber said. 

“We work for violence prevention on campus and many different forums,” she said. “So, not only do we support students, but we also support initiatives that help bring awareness to violence prevention.”

PSMAs, for example, run the “Take Back the Night” event in April during Sexual Assault Awareness Month to bring attention to the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and on our campus, Podber said. 

The number of calls and applications the group receives has increased significantly since the program started five years ago, which reflects how much the program has grown, Podber said. 

PSMA operates through a confidential phone line and email server for students to use as a means to contact the advisers, Marston said. 

With the addition of a dedicated cell phone line in fall 2019, Marston said she believed people felt more comfortable texting or calling rather than having to communicate via email. Using one line as opposed to each of the PSMA's cell phone numbers has also allowed the group to streamline communication with students, Marston added. 

Two advisers are always on call managing the email and phone service, which operates at all times of day everyday, Marston said. 

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The program is working to expand recognition and acknowledgement of the issues surrounding sexual assault on campus, Podber said. 

Alongside recognition, a goal is to learn from other groups on campus on ways to better reach and support students, said Kaylin Tingle, who is a PSMA staff adviser and healthy relationship and violence prevention educator at the UR Center for Awareness, Response and Education.  

“For example, the peer support specialists and interns through CAPS, they use a different kind of software that allows them to have a chat widget,” they said. “So exploring other ways that we can provide those confidential services that are more accessible to our students is something that I'm always kind of thinking about where we can go in the future.” 

Podber added that the current PSMA training was comprehensive, but she hoped to see the organization expand its expertise and find new ways to support students. 

“I would love to keep expanding our training and hearing from different groups how we can better support more of the breadth of students on campus,” she said. 

PSMAs do not want to limit the program's reach to cisgender straight women, even though that is a major demographic of those affected by violence, Marston said.

"We want to help male identifying students, non binary students and members of the LGBTQ community,” she said.   

Moving forward, Marston hopes PSMA continues to reach all students because everyone can be affected by violence. 

Contact writer Caitlin O'Hare at caitlin.ohare@richmond.edu.

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