Three months after the previous director of Penn Violence Prevention left the position, Penn is still in the process of hiring a new leader to replace Jessica Mertz, who worked at the University since 2009.
Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé said he hopes a new director can be selected and extended an offer within a month. The timeframe may vary due to logistics, however, as the selection process will consist of several rounds of remote and on-campus interviews.
The new hire will be the second director since PVP was established in 2014. The role of the PVP director, Dubé said, is to lead prevention and education programs that teach students about sexual harassment, sexual violence, stalking, and domestic or dating violence.
Mertz was first hired as a violence prevention educator, and she became associate director of the Penn Women’s Center in 2010. During her time at Penn, Mertz established the Anti-Violence Engagement Network to bring together campus organizations who are working to improve the campus culture around sexual assault prevention. She also frequently spoke at Penn's annual Take Back the Night rally against sexual violence.
Mertz now serves as executive director of the Clery Center, an organization that works to eliminate violence on college campuses across the country.
Dubé said over the summer, the PVP director position was listed online and the University reached out to applicants. He added that the search for Mertz's replacement was deliberately slowed down over the summer so students could participate in the process.
“We want to make sure that students have a voice at the table, and that also includes choosing their best advocates,” Dubé said. “Students are not the only voice, but they’re an important and essential part of the decision-making process.”
Dubé said student groups under PVP will participate in the search, including Men Against Rape & Sexual Assault, Penn Anti-Violence Educators, and Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention. President of MARS and College senior Justin Iannacone said this student involvement is essential.
"We are successful in our advocacy and our education workshop services because we’re student-based," Iannacone said. "I think the full-time staff at PVP do a great job in including us in those decisions."
A search advisory committee will soon evaluate applicants and decide who will be invited for video interviews. Dubé said students make up about one-third of the committee members, including student leaders and those who have been involved in activities like Anti-Violence Advocate Training and Penn Anti-Violence Educators.
After the video interviews, the search advisory committee will help decide which applicants to invite to campus for interviews. Dubé said students will outnumber faculty and staff during this part of the process to ensure that the selected applicant resonates with students.