University launches new peer-educator program

4/7/2009 - By: Natalie Savidge

When students need to discuss an issue, figure out a problem, or simply want to talk, they’ll more than likely turn to a friend and confidant, someone to whom they can relate. A new student-led program at the University of Nevada, Reno looks to empower fellow students and break through the stigmas that may come from topics such as stress management, personal safety, sexual violence prevention, and the impact of drugs and alcohol on sexual consent.

Personal Safety and Sexual Assault Prevention (psASAP) is an on-campus, peer-educator program, administered by the University’s Counseling Services department. The program relies on the support of a variety of other campus and community organizations, including University Police Services, Campus Escort Services, Student Health Center, Office of Student Conduct, Crisis Call Center, and the Reno Police Department’s Victim Services Unit.

“Prevention programs such as psASAP and consistent messages will help identify sexual assault and sexual violence as crimes that will not be tolerated at the University campus,” said Shernaaz Webster, intercultural therapist in Counseling Services and a member of the program’s advisory committee.

The psASAP outreach and advocacy programs, presentations and training workshops strengthen and develop comprehensive, coordinated victim- and survivor-awareness services. Students do not receive counseling or legal advice in the program.

Eight student educators make up the program’s team members, led by their coordinator, Heidi La Bash, a candidate for a doctorate in clinical psychology at the University.

“This program is meant to reach out to the culture of young students on campus, to bring them into the conversation and to have an open and ongoing dialogue about sexual assault,” La Bash said. “Sexual assault is a universal issue, concerning women and men; it happens way too frequently and our goal is to educate students to help reduce rates of sexual victimization. We also want students to know that there are people and places they can turn to for help if they have been assaulted.”

Before coming to the University to pursue her doctorate, La Bash worked at the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the Veterans Affairs’ Boston Healthcare System for three years, working on military trauma, sexual assault and other harassment cases.

“I really care about trauma work,” La Bash said. “Trauma affects so many people; I want to share what I know and what I’ve learned about trauma work with others.”

Student organizers with psASAP are planning nearly 50 peer-educator presentations each semester. They hope to get involved with freshman orientation sessions at the start of the fall semester in August, reach out to Greek-life organizations and residence halls, conduct Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) training classes, show educational movies at the Joe Crowley Student Union Theater

Students will host a “Guarded by the Pack” safety rally on Thursday, April 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in front of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, on campus.

“The rally will be a time for students and the entire community to come together in dedication to keeping themselves and others safe,” La Bash said. “Promoting awareness and reducing incidents of personal violence and crime on campus and in the community are very important.”

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and officials with the peer-educator team and members of its supporting organizations said they want to provide a caring, supportive and nurturing environment for all students this month and year round.

For more information or to schedule a presentation, visit Counseling Services Personal Safety and Sexual Assault Prevention or email unrpsasap@gmail.com. For concerns or questions about personal safety or the safety of others, contact (775) 784-4648.


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