Two months into her tenure, newly appointed Penn Violence Prevention Director Elise Scioscia spoke to The Daily Pennsylvanian about her goals.
Scioscia, who began her tenure on Dec. 7, was selected for the position after a nearly year-long nationwide search prompted by the departure of former Director Malik Washington in January 2022. PVP serves as Penn’s primary resource for students experiencing interpersonal violence, including sexual violence, relationship violence, stalking, and sexual harassment.
Prior to coming to Penn, Scioscia served for 11 years at Women Against Abuse, Pennsylvania’s largest provider of services for people experiencing domestic violence, where she undertook extensive responsibilities from organizational strategic planning, operational management, public policy to prevention education work.
Scioscia told the DP that her major goal at PVP is to leverage the abundant resources available at Penn to “deepen the work in primary prevention and starting and stopping violence before it happens altogether.”
She outlined three priorities underlining this goal. She said she hopes to create more opportunities for campus conversation on what healthy relationships look like and what harm looks like through proactive education and awareness campaigns, which serve as a lifelong preventative measure against violence.
Scioscia also said she will prioritize expanding on the current work on consent and bystander intervention, which equips students with tools to support in times when violence occurs. The work that the Penn Anti-Violence Educators led by Penn students is important in advancing this effort. She said part of her goal is to continue supporting PAVE’s work with peers, PVP’s partners in athletics, in the Office of Fraternity/Sorority Life, and with other student groups on campus.
The third area, Scioscia said, is increasing training for faculty on interpersonal violence and survivor support as faculty are the people interacting with students the most. She said there are many opportunities to expand this kind of work, such as in department meetings or drop-in hours at the Graduate Student Center.
Scioscia added that she drew inspiration for these objectives from her time as director of policy and prevention at WAA, where she worked in education outreach with children as young as 11 years old on healthy relationships, good boundaries, and communication strategies. She also cited her work with Shared Safety, a Philadelphia collaborative community response to domestic violence.
“It became so important to me, personally and also for the city, to make sure that everybody who may see a person in Philadelphia was equipped to respond, so that there was no wrong door for survivors of domestic violence,” Scioscia said.
Under her management, Shared Safety won Penn's Barry and Marie Lipman Family Prize, a global prize recognizing innovative problem-solving in the social sector, according to Penn Almanac.
"Our team will benefit immensely from the expertise she brings,” Associate Vice Provost for University Life Sharon Smith wrote to the DP. “Having the director in place allows us to continue our strategic planning and maximize the outreach that PVP can have in the community, specifically our ability to support more students.”
Scioscia said she is excited to bring her experience with prevention to Penn, where there is strong investment from the University on violence prevention work and a community of advocates and scholars.
“There truly is a community feel here in terms of working toward the greater good for the Penn community," Scioscia said. “If we can leverage that collective energy around a goal, I think we can all get behind to end interpersonal violence in our community.”
Scioscia cited the numerous resources that Penn provides for survivors, including Special Services, Title IX Office, the Penn Women’s Center, the LGBT Center, the Wellness team, and student groups such as Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention. She said it is PVP’s responsibility to continue making these resources known and accessible and to ensure that students feel comfortable opening up these conversations with peers, faculty, and staff.
College junior Harley Haas, the chair of ASAP, told the DP that she appreciates PVP for listening to survivors and supporting their initiatives. In the past, ASAP has worked closely with PVP on workshops and the annual Take Back the Night. As of right now, she said ASAP is consulting PVP to create an interpersonal violence resource app that will accompany the Thrive At Penn modules for New Student Orientation this fall.
Scioscia said she hopes that every member of the Penn community, including students, staff, and faculty, can experience workshops on consent, healthy relationship, bystander intervention, and survivor support.
“There's no reason we can't all have a role and responsibility in sexual violence and interpersonal violence prevention,” Scioscia said. “My goal truly is to make it so universal and so accessible, that there's not a member of our Penn community who doesn't have access to the resources and or support if they need."