Penn’s Violence Prevention Educator, Nina Harris, officially ended her term at the Penn Women’s Center on April 30.
Harris has worked as a counselor for sexual assault victims and educated students about violence prevention for the past two years. The University is not renewing her specific position. Instead, the work that Harris did will be divided primarily between two other staff members at PWC.
Litty Paxton, director of PWC, said in an email statement that Harris was originally hired in 2010 “on a grant proposal that was term-funded by a Federal Violence Against Women Act grant.” The grant ended in 2012, she added, along with the legislation, which Congress did not renew at that time.
VAWA was recently signed into law again by President Barack Obama.
The Office of the Vice Provost for University Life initially extended Harris’ position for another 12 months after the grant expired. “[After] much consideration over the past year, PWC staff roles underwent a reorganization,” Paxton said. Harris’ role was cut as a result of this.
Paxton emphasized that the University will continue to support both of these roles despite Harris’ departure.
“We welcomed a new Education and Outreach Coordinator [in late April], Brittany Harris, who will take on several key facets of the anti-violence educational work,” Paxton said.
The education and outreach coordinator will run Student Anti-Violence Trainings, mentor the anti-violence peer groups Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention and 1 in 4, help organize “Take Back the Night” and work with students on educational campaigns, Paxton said.
“She will also, along with existing PWC staff, share the responsibility of providing crisis counseling and victim advocacy services to members of the Penn community who seek our support regarding dating violence, sexual assault and stalking,” Paxton added.
Students also have support resources through other University offices and programs including the Division of Public Safety’s Special Services Department and Counseling and Psychological Services.
Furthermore, Penn’s first violence prevention educator and the current associate director at PWC, Jessica Mertz, will take on the responsibility of managing the University’s anti-violence initiatives.
Some students are questioning the University’s priorities with this reorganization.
College sophomore Victoria Ford urges students to pressure the University to find funding to support a full-time violence prevention educator from the $4.3 billion it raised through the Making History campaign.
She said she “can’t fathom there isn’t one way they can do this.”
Former Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women chair and College senior Adrienne Edwards is concerned that the Women’s Center is “downsizing,” noting that when Nina Harris was in her position there was also a separate education and outreach coordinator, Shaina Adams-El Guabli.
“I think there was a clear distinction between Shaina’s role [working with student groups] and Nina’s role, and I don’t think it should be combined,” Edwards said.
Ford, who knew Nina Harris through Sister Sister — an unofficial student group that holds meetings at PWC and was led by Harris — said if she needed counseling it would not be her first instinct to reach out to the education and outreach coordinator.
She said that Harris’ title of violence prevention educator alone was important, and it made her feel “comfortable” to know there was someone available as a resource in that specific role.
College sophomore and current PCUW chair Lizzy Britton took a different perspective. “I know both Brittany and Jess, so if they’re just breaking up the role in different ways, [I know] that they can both handle it.”
Edwards, however, is also concerned that by combining these roles between PWC staff members, the University is portraying sexual violence as solely a women’s issue, when it is not. She said Nina Harris “just sat at the Women’s Center, but they’ve essentially made it a women’s center role by combining it.”
In response, Britton said, “I know that it’s sometimes a problem that issues with domestic violence and rape really get packaged as women’s issues, but I still think the Women’s Center is very attentive to that as a problem.”
On a more personal note, Harris herself will be missed.
Britton said that sexual violence victims who spoke with Harris thought she was “amazing.”
Ford added, “Just as a black women, to have her face [there] was really important.”
Harris could not be reached for comment as of press time.Comments powered by Disqus
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