MERCED - The University of California, Merced, prides itself on the intimacy of its campus community. With more than 3,400 enrolled students, just about every face on campus is a familiar one. That sense of community is important for a number of reasons. It fosters a collaborative working/learning environment, it increases student engagement, and it also contributes to campus safety.
A recent grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will enable the UC Merced Police Department to launch programs to maintain the safe campus environment it has helped to cultivate since the university opened in 2005. The $299,756 grant provides funding for the department to create and strengthen preventive, healing and criminal justice procedures that address violence against women.
According to Rita Spaur, chief of the UC Merced Police Department, the grant will also fund programs that allow survivors to report and seek services related to current or past sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking. The most recent campus crime statistics show that one sexual assault took place on campus in 2008. The last sexual assault to occur on campus was in 2006.
"The goal is to implement a comprehensive, multi-phased collaborative program that reaches out to and educates the campus community on issues of violence against women, and supports survivors," she said. "Even one assault in our community is too many."
The program will fulfill grant requirements that include prevention and education programs targeted at dating and domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. In addition to preventive programs, such as self-defense classes, the program will also address issues related to bystander behavior and peer response.
Aside from helping the campus community maintain its existing level of safety, Spaur said the three-year grant gives the university the tools necessary to serve the university population as it grows.
Nearly half of students enrolled and more than 300 members of the faculty and staff are women. Projections estimate an influx of 650 to 750 new students each year until UC Merced reaches its capacity of 25,000.
"Our department has jurisdiction in the state with emphasis over UC Merced-owned or leased properties and the surrounding square mile," Spaur said. "Maintaining the safety and security as the campus community grows is a primary focus for our department. This grant will help us establish a culture of zero tolerance for violence against women that will sustain as UC Merced grows to capacity. "
The UC Merced Police Department will continue to work with campus departments, and local nonprofit, law enforcement and criminal justice agencies to develop a coordinated community response that encompasses services for survivors and criminal prosecution.
"The program will build upon the rich experience of community partners to effectively empower women of the UC Merced community," Spaur said. "It will also support other campus and community services."
The UC Merced Police Department currently offers a citizen's academy that examines all aspects of law enforcement and a R.A.D. self-defense class for women. Both the academy and self-defense class are offered throughout the year.
Resources for women on campus who are survivors of dating and domestic violence, sexual assault, and/or stalking in the past or present are offered through Counseling and Psychological Services .
"Ensuring the safety of our campus community is a collaborative effort," said Fuji Collins, assistant vice chancellor for student health and wellness. "This grant will give our police department and campus the resources necessary to keep students, faculty and staff safe here."