OPINION: K-State needs to increase support to CARE office

Vedant Kulkarni, senior in mass communications and management information systems, is the Student Committee Engagement Chair. (File photo by John Chapple | Collegian Media Group)

April is observed as the Sexual Assault Awareness month across the nation. We observe it here at Kansas State as well. Our very own Center for Advocacy, Response and Education, or CARE office, takes up the task to ensure all Wildcats are well-informed about sexual assault awareness and prevention.

This year, as we observe Sexual Assault Awareness month, it is important to support the CARE Office at K-State — it has undergone numerous challenges to make our campus safe and secure, and they need us to be their voice on campus.

Since its inception, everyone at the CARE office has put their heart and soul into their work to ensure the campus is safe for all Wildcats. Through hosting numerous training sessions like bystander training to ensure sexual assault survivors get the appropriate legal assistance they need, the CARE office has worked day-and-night to make K-State better.

However, a lot of progress needs to be made to expand the CARE office’s reach across our campus.

Firstly, there is a sexual and relationship violence specialist position currently held by Jessica Henault at the CARE office since 2019. Under her leadership, CARE has given a total of 95 presentations, 31 Wildcats Make A Pact (WMAP) training — to 667 incoming fraternity men — and hosted 32 tabling events.

While Henault does an incredible job in her position, she is the only one in this position for a university with over 20,000 students. In comparison, our sister university — the University of Kansas — has six individuals in a similar position as Henault’s.

According to Student Governing Association’s Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Director Sara Haggard, an “average” institute would budget $3.79 per student, while an “advanced” university budgets $9.35 per student for primary prevention education and culture change initiatives. These average and advanced institutes employ one FTE per 10,273 and 1,298 students, respectively. In contrast, K-State budgets only $0.96 per student and only one and a half FTE per 22,221 students.

Additionally, Henault’s position is also unfortunately not permanent — it is dependent on privilege fee funding. Given the ongoing pandemic and lack of adequate funding available at K-State, her position’s future can be in jeopardy. There is, unfortunately, a good chance this position may not get renewed. This should not happen.

An organization as important as the CARE office needs support through thick and thin. Throughout its time at K-State, the CARE office has built great relationships across the campus with higher administration, Greek life, multicultural students, international students and all faculty and staff. The CARE office has successfully implemented numerous programs such as the Wildcats Make a Pact bystander intervention program for Greek life fraternity members.

The question arises, “How can we as students and our K-State Administration better support the CARE office?”

The answer is simple.

First, when it comes to us as students, we need to create more awareness about the CARE office and all the programs they host. The CARE office has multiple events lined up to observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month — if all students could attend at least one of these programs, we can surely create a support system for our CARE office and help them grow their reach and resources on campus.

The CARE office also offers to facilitate discussions and provide prevention education materials to any student, faculty and staff at K-State. Utilizing such opportunities to learn more about prevention and awareness is truly beneficial, and all students should seize these opportunities.

Administration, too, has opportunities to support our CARE office. Including CARE office employees in important policy conversations and other administrative discussions would certainly help them advocate for better student resources and help grow their reach.

University administration did not include the CARE office in important meetings about the topics of the recent Title IX changes and the impact on campus. This is nothing but a tight slap on the faces of everyone at the CARE office and all students who care about what the CARE office does at K-State.

Second, there should be an increase in funding opportunities for the CARE office. Currently, the office is largely funded through the students’ Privilege Fee money. Au contraire, CARE director Clara Kientz said the KU department, similar to our CARE office, is directly funded through the University Chancellor’s funds.

Of the five full-time staff members in CARE, only one — Director Clara Kientz — is paid by university funds, that too, partially. CARE’s Survivor Advocates are funded by the Victims of Crime Act grant for which CARE has to apply every year, meaning K-State does not fund the majority of advocates at CARE. Under VOCA restrictions, survivor advocates are limited only to direct response and advocacy, not prevention activities.

Bringing similar funding opportunities at K-State would help increase funds to the CARE office and help sustain Henault’s position and create newer positions in the CARE office, directly helping students with better advocacy. The administration needs to understand that with the declining enrollment and lack of grants because of the ongoing pandemic, offices such as CARE are in financial trouble and need as much help as the administration could offer. An organization as important as the CARE office should not have to rely on students’ privilege fee funds and grants for operations.

Lastly, the administration can better serve the CARE office by ensuring CARE office resources are available at the newly chosen director of the Office of Institutional Equity’s website, social media and offices. Bettering collaboration between the office and various DSOs, departments, the Morris Family Multicultural Student Center, New Students Services and the Office of Institutional Equity will help build campus relationships and spread awareness about the CARE office and all the work it does for K-State.

The office puts its heart and soul into the work it does. Support the K-State CARE office and support all events they put out for students. Together, we can be a strong voice to advocate for a more resourceful CARE office.

As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Vedant Deepak Kulkarni is a Collegian contributor and a senior in management information systems and mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.