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The debate rages over SAPAC

BY AYMAR JEAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 15, 2004

Galvanizing students against the Division of Student Affairs,
the proposed changes to sexual assault services have drawn the ire
of groups across campus while the University defends its plan to
augment resources.

Last week, members of Our Voices Count, a group opposed to the
changes, met with program directors to air their opinions and make
suggestions. But Kelly Cichy and Todd Sevig, the directors of the
Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and Counseling and
Psychological Services, told the students that no fundamental
changes would be made to the original plans.

While OVC cites as support for its cause cries of dissent from
sexual assault survivors and two University-commissioned reports
possibly calling the changes into question, the administration
claims expert analysis and years of experience to its credit.

But these assurances have not assuaged some survivors of sexual
assault.

“I feel like (University administrators) aren’t
seeking a world without rape as they say. They want a world that
pretends that rape does not exist,” said one survivor, who
wished to remain anonymous.

In early February, the administration announced changes to
SAPAC. Starting this summer, SAPAC’s counseling services will
be relocated to CAPS, a move intended to increase SAPAC’s
education and advocacy resources, which the University says
counseling has always hindered.

SAPAC will keep its office at North University Avenue to conduct
education and advocacy. CAPS will hold longer-term sexual assault
counseling in the Michigan Union.

To improve immediate crisis intervention, administration
officials will shift SAPAC’s 24-hour Crisis-line to the SAFE
House, the county provider for sexual assault and domestic violence
services. SAFE House’s phone line also operates 24 hours a
day but provides immediate phone assistance and translation in
about 150 languages. Currently, callers to SAPAC’s
Crisis-line must wait a few minutes while a volunteer is contacted.
Opponents argue, however, that the burden of serving all of
Washtenaw County might restrict SAFE House’s much-heralded
promise of “immediate assistance” with “no
waiting.”

Meetings bear little fruit

As of now, the University will implement the proposal as
planned, despite a series of protests scheduled in opposition.

LSA senior Katherine Turnock said administrators told OVC
“we’re open to hearing your improvements on the plan as
it stands but not your critiques of the plan that’s
fundamentally flawed.”

Neither party has sought to schedule another meeting. LSA senior
Mia White said that OVC is open to more meetings but only if
approached by the administration. Cichy said OVC does not seem open
to more dialogue. The group may pursue alternative means to reach
their goals.

“Eighteen years ago, we only had CAPS and a student crisis
line, and that wasn’t good enough for the students then.
It’s still not good enough for us now,” said White,
referring to students who organized and acted to create and empower
SAPAC.

Student outcry buttressed by reports

Although administrators like Cichy say the changes will allow
the center to focus on education and advocacy, opponents assert
that the fragmentation of services will work against survivors. A
recently released report by the Mental Health Work Group —
created in 2001 by Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster
Harper — and a similar report on SAPAC both offer information
that may contradict the University’s decision.

In moving counseling to CAPS, the administration is eliminating
a safe, centralized environment for students, opponents say. At
CAPS, survivors have a greater risk of encountering their
perpetrator, whom the office is obligated to serve — CAPS
must provide help to students regardless of the reason, while SAPAC
does not counsel perpetrators of sexual assault.

The Campus Safety and Security Advisory Committee report on
SAPAC offers evidence to support this claim. Three years ago, when
the report was released, Student Affairs considered moving SAPAC to
the Union from its current office on North University Avenue. But
the report states that “(SAPAC’s) current location
adjacent to the campus provides more privacy for those who come for
service…”