SAASA secures It’s On Us PA grant

Led by Ray Epstein, SAASA at Temple secured a $20,000 It’s On Us PA grant to combat sexual assault on campus

A SAASA sticker on display on a member's water bottle. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

When Ray Epstein was founding Temple’s chapter of Student Activists Against Sexual Assault in the Fall 2022 semester, she realized Temple’s Wellness Resource Center had not reapplied for the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s It’s On Us PA grant, which funds resources aimed at improving sexual assault awareness and prevention. 

The It’s On Us PA grant, which expired in early 2022, was given to the WRC before Temple’s chapter was reestablished. Epstein, SAASA’s founder and president, made it a priority to make sure the club secured the grant again.  

“I found out that they hadn’t reapplied, so this past year, we haven’t had [the grant] and then when this year started, I was working closely with It’s On Us and they said, ‘You have to apply for this, you guys need this,’” Epstein said. 

Through submitting the grant application, SAASA secured $20,000 through its collaboration with WRC to use from January 2024-May 2025 to implement strategies on campus aimed at  addressing the goals of SAASA’s parent organization, It’s On Us. 

The grants will fund initiatives like improving awareness, prevention, reporting and response systems for sexual assault. Other initiatives aim to foster proactive leadership to change campus culture and remove barriers for survivors when reporting incidents and accessing resources.

Epstein and other members of SAASA’s E-board have proposed plans and discussed how they plan to utilize the grant. One major goal is updating Temple’s bathroom signage which lists Title IX resources and reporting and response systems for sexual violence on campus. 

Many of the bathroom stalls are missing the Title IX resource signage, which contains outdated information. SAASA’s members quickly noticed the project would be heaftier than expected, as there’s hundreds of bathroom stalls on Main Campus. 

“We’re planning with WRC right now, instead of putting the contact information of the Title IX coordinator, [we are] putting a QR code with all the resources in one place,” Epstein said.

The QR code formatting would improve the longevity and sustainability of the bathroom stall stickers as QR codes can easily be adjusted by an administrator. The code could also direct students to scenarios on how to support a survivor and what language to use when a survivor comes to someone personally, Epstein said.

The grant is distributed through the Department of Education and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro. In addition to Epstein’s advocacy, universities are required to take an active role in the grant submission. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Education awarded “It’s On Us” grants to more than 30 higher education and postsecondary schools to combat sexual assault and enhance campus safety, Yahoo reported. The campaign aims to shift the conversation around sexual violence and involve college and university officials in finding solutions.

“The 2023-2024 grant, which runs from January 2024 through May 2025 will expand on previous grant years and include a social norms campaign highlighting support services for students who have experienced harm,” wrote Liz Zadnik, director of the WRC, in an email to The Temple News. “The student organization Student Activists Against Sexual Assault (SAASA) will be an integral collaborator on this project to ensure student perspectives shape messaging and outreach efforts.”

SAASA often considers the lasting impact it could have on Temple’s students when deciding what projects to work on. Since its founding, the organization has advocated for the use of Callisto Vault, an encrypted system for survivors of sexual violence, and has provided $350,000 worth of Uber vouchers to eligible Temple students. 

“Moving forward, we’re really focused on how we can sufficiently help the community but also making sure that we’re not just limiting it to the smaller details, we’re looking at it through the bigger picture,” said Susan Daniel Mathuram, SAASA’s project manager and a junior criminal justice and computer science major. 

Besides improving signage on campus, the club hopes to purchase a new sexual assault prevention module to make available to the student body. Greek life organizations at Temple already require members to pass these courses. 

“People feel like it’s their fault if they were consuming alcohol because they were told not to at orientation, and I want to change that,” Epstein said. “I think that that is where the cultural change starts because that’s the thing you do before you set foot on this campus, you experience orientation, and I think that would set a new standard for Temple and how they treat and view survivors.”

During the 2000s, the federal government mandated that institutions of higher education offer sexual misconduct prevention training to students, staff and faculty as part of compliance with Title IX and the Violence Against Women Act.

These generic modules typically shift the blame of sexual assault on the alcohol consumption of the survivor. Many universities purchase the same generic module, resulting in students not actually learning, as many answers are readily available and posted to sites like Quizlet. 

Although the tangible funds from the grant will allow SAASA to grow their impact on campus, the notability and recognition alone is helpful in building awareness for the club, Epstein said.

“I feel like just all of this attention and validation that we’ve been getting from government entities and nonprofit organizations that are just so public facing already amplifies everything that we do and elevates our message and gets it out to the student body even more,” Epstein said. 

Ray Epstein has previously freelanced for The Temple News. She did not contribute to the writing or reporting of this story. 

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