Gov. Tom Wolf issued the It’s On Us PA grant to 37 institutions this year to combat sexual assault on college campuses. Colleges and universities throughout the state of Pennsylvania were rewarded up to $30,000 each through this grant.
It’s On Us is a national movement founded by the Obama administration in 2014 that raises awareness about sexual assault. Tracey Vitchers, executive director of It’s On Us, said Wolf launched It’s On Us PA in 2016, making Pennsylvania the first state to formally adopt the movement. Since then, Wolf has awarded 150 grants to more than 70 institutions of higher education.
“About a million dollars a year is allocated through the state budget for this grants program,” Vitchers said.
Institutions apply for the grant through the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and It’s On Us works to fund and promote it.
Although Lehigh has been awarded this grant in the past, the university was not among this year’s 37 recipients.
Brooke DeSipio, director of Lehigh’s Office of Gender Violence Education and Support, said in an email that Lehigh did not apply for the It’s On Us grant this year. DeSipio said she is responsible for the grant application at Lehigh and does not apply every year to be financially responsible.
“I like to take a year to assess the programs we used the grant money for and then identify new projects or programs that we could use additional grant funding for,” DiSipio said in an email.
Lehigh received the grant in 2017 for $28,000 and in 2019 for $30,000. DiSipio said the grant money awarded in those years has been used for reporting and resource promotional materials, including customized resources for students of color, LGBTQ+ students and international students. Other uses included campus climate surveys and informational training sessions and workshops.
DeSipio said she is considering applying for the 2021-2022 grant. She is currently assessing potential projects to combat sexual assault on Lehigh’s campus that would require grant funding.
Muhlenberg College, a neighbor to Lehigh, was awarded $16,000 through the It’s On Us grant in 2021. Muhlenberg has received the grant in years past as well.
Jules Purnell, associate director of prevention education at Muhlenberg, is in charge of the grant application for the college. They said they decided to apply for the grant this year to implement restorative justice practices on campus.
Restorative justice is a practice used to address harm in a less conventional way without policing or typical formal processes, such as hearings for sexual assault cases. Purnell said restorative justice is a way to address these problems in a fashion that may be less traumatic for survivors.
“Last year was the first case we ever actually had, where we’re using restorative justice processes through the Title IX office,” Purnell said. “And I think that’s really great.”
Purnell said they have been practicing restorative justice for the past 10 years and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to educate others about the technique.
Purnell went through training at the University of San Diego Center for Restorative Justice. Using Muhlenberg’s It’s On Us Grant, Purnell hired intensive training to educate a select group of faculty at Muhlenberg on restorative justice.
Purnell said this brought together a group of advisors to understand the technique and help make an impact at Muhlenberg.