By Albert Nall, Staff Writer

Many colleges are developing new programs to deal with sexual assault through a holistic approach, and for good reason. Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 20 college students experience sexual violence at some point in their school careers. The University of Missouri—St. Louis is among the legion of college campuses setting up a holistic program to deal with sexual assault. According to the program’s founding director Zoe Peterson, the major objective is to facilitate research on the UMSL campus and its role in preventing sexual assault. According to Peterson, stopping sexual assaults by identifying offenders and providing treatment for both offenders and victims could be an eventual development for the program. Peterson took the time to talk to “The Current” about the new program, which is facilitated by the Psychological Sciences Department in conjunction with the Colleges of Arts & Sciences.

The Current (TC): Describe this new program, and what is your role?

Zoe Peterson (ZP): One of the first things I will be doing as the director of this new program is reaching out to faculty members across disciplines and across schools, not just in the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS), but to many groups and networks who do work on sexual assault.

TC: How are you coming along in establishing your board of directors, and how will they will be tracking the program’s objectives?

ZP: The way that I am imagining it is that I will identify other faculty members who do related work on sexual assault, and they will be identified as affiliate members. My progress will be monitored and tracked, so there will be committees assigned by the CAS to make sure that I am being productive and achieving my goals in conducting research and education on sexual assault on the campus and in the community.

TC: Were there any discussions of an alternative program for sexual assault prior to the new program?

ZP: Our campus has been doing things [about] sexual assault, so this is not the first time the subject has been addressed. There are a lot of people doing prevention, training, and intervention on campus. Also we have a Title IX coordinator who handles reports of sexual assault on campus. All of these things have been in place for a long time, and these procedures remain in place. My role will be to advise them and provide research that will enable them to revise and test their intervention efforts.

TC: How is the program getting its funding?

ZP: Ron Yasbin, the Dean of the CAS (who asked me to head up this new program) is providing some support to get the program off the ground. Right now it does not take much because it’s just me. In the long run, the goal is to finance it with grant funding which is challenging with cuts in funding across the university. However, with many people recognizing sexual assault as a serious problem, our hope is that we can create collaborative and interdisciplinary networks within the university so that as a team, we can secure the funding for our research to do this kind of work.

TC: How will students be involved with this research program?

ZP: Our goal is to incorporate undergraduate and graduate students in this initiative. I know there are a lot of graduate students in my own laboratory doing investigation on sexual assault. And so part of it is to identify those students already doing the research; to bring them together and connect them with each other, so that they can share their findings. And there are opportunities for undergraduates to help as research assistants on projects. So I hope that one thing I will do as part of this process is to identify the people on campus who are doing the sexual assault research, talk with all of them, and identify what an undergraduate assistant needs to have, so we can promote options around the campus for this research.