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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…”

At its current location, SAPAC can provide both counseling and
advocacy between survivors and professors or University housing,
for example. But under the new plan, these services will be split
between CAPS and SAPAC. OVC believes this is detrimental to
survivors who may come into SAPAC for advocacy but realize they
need counseling as well. The division of services also forces
survivors to disclose their traumatic experience as many as four
times, once to SAFE-House on the phone, once to a SAFEHouse
volunteer, once at SAPAC and once at CAPS.

“It limits the amount of guesswork that someone would have
to do, and it limits the amount of disclosure that someone would
also have to do in order to get these resources,” White
said.

Opponents have also criticized what they say is a limit on the
number of available sessions a patient can attend at CAPS.
Currently, those who seek help at CAPS typically attend eight to 10
sessions with a counselor. CAPS says the amount is flexible. The
limit is especially problematic for students without insurance if
CAPS must refer them to an off-campus provider.

A report issued by the mental health group evaluating mental
health services on campus stated that in 1999 about 5 to 10 percent
of undergraduates and 3 percent of graduate students do not have
health insurance, and a substantial portion of those with insurance
do not receive coverage for the Ann Arbor area. “It’s a
very significant number of students,” CAPS director Sevig
said.

The report also states that CAPS is committed to shorter term
therapy session, and suggests that intermediate term therapy of 10
to 20 sessions may be more effective.

CAPS is intended for short-term counseling, Sevig has said in
previous interviews. But “if a student needs more, we will do
our best to accommodate,” he added. The number of students
CAPS refers out is relatively small, however, and most counseling
centers nationwide are short-term, he stressed.

The University says its decision is justified

Administrators, OVC members and both reports all acknowledge
that SAPAC counseling services are understaffed and that the center
has continually faced challenges in providing care. For many years,
a lack of space and resources has compromised education and
advocacy.

Students from OVC have advised the administration to increase
counseling at SAPAC, keep the Crisis-line and allow SAPAC
counselors to train those at CAPS. Their plan would preserve
SAPAC’s central location.

But the University will pursue an alternate decision, one
reached by consulting with experts and studying other models
nationwide. The students’ informal proposal was overly
complex and not feasible, Cichy said. Logistically, SAPAC
counselors could not stay in the North University office and still
remain under CAPS’s jurisdiction, as students recommended,
she said.

The advisory committee report also describes the office as
pressed for space.

CAPS also currently may not have the capacity to accommodate
increases in its services without increases in staffing. The MHWG
report states that “… under present conditions, CAPS
is constrained by lack of additional space.Waits for urgent
evaluations are consistently less than one day. Waits for routine
evaluations vary according to demand, but are between three and
seven working days.”

“We are filled up at CAPS, and so we wrote that in the
report and that remains true today,” Sevig said. CAPS is now
identifying space options for SAPAC staff.

“We’re going to be concentrating our staff resources
on education and advocacy work, which we have not been able to do
at the capacity we will be able to in the future,” Cichy
said.

While opponents see a fragmented program with survivors pulled
painfully in various directions, Cichy sees a more fluid system
that is more than “just boxes and arrows.”

Those opposed to the changes often say administrators did not
consult survivors of sexual assault in developing their plan. But
this is untrue, said Cichy, who herself is a survivor.

“I have a very, very deep respect for their
concerns,” she said.

But the administration did not commission focus groups or
surveys of survivors to arrive at their decisions. SAPAC’s
director said these methods fail to address the complex and
divergent feelings expressed by survivors. Concerned about the
long-term repercussions, Cichy does not keep a list of survivors.
And while the changes will affect all survivors, those who have
demurred already have a support system in place, she added.
“My bigger concern is for those who have not
disclosed,” she said.


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