After months of discussion and student requests, the Title IX office’s first victim advocate started work at Westminster College on Feb. 27.
Isabella Ramos Miller filled the long-awaited position, which will provide student survivors of sexual violence with an additional campus resource. Miller’s main role will be to help students “navigate the internal investigation and criminal processes” of Title IX investigations, according to an email sent to the student body from Jason Schwartz-Johnson, Westminster’s Title IX coordinator.
Miller said Westminster’s decision to create a victim advocate position is an important step.
“I do think it’s important to have kind of another resource for students who have experienced specifically violence or sexual assault in order to just have an additional resource for them,” she said. “It says that the students are kind of being heard and that what’s happening to them is real and happening to them. I think when you have a victim advocate it shows students their experiences are valued and happening.
Miller will be available for two hours in the evenings from August to April when classes are in session.
For some students, this doesn’t seem like enough.
“Obviously I’m excited that we’re getting an advocate on campus,” said Sabi Lowder, a sophomore custom major and the president of Westminster’s Feminist Club. “It’s amazing that at least we’re taking steps. But it is only two hours a week, and so that’s… my biggest concern is that it gets turned into, ‘Okay, well, we did it,’ and it just becomes a checked box for administration to say that they pleased students.”
Lowder was a vocal proponent for bringing a full-time victim advocate on campus. When Lowder said she felt the school wasn’t making steps quickly enough to bring the resource to campus, she organized the Sexual Assault Peer Support Network to train students as support for survivors.
Lowder served on the hiring committee for the victim advocate and said she is excited about Miller’s appointment, calling her “approachable.”
Miller said she wasn’t comfortable speculating about whether the victim advocate position could transition to full time but said she hopes she will be able to meet student needs during the time she has.
“I’m really excited that this is a step in the right direction,” Miller said. “It would be awesome if there was a full-time advocate for sure, but I think I’m going to do all I can to support students as much as they need from me. I’m going to do my best to fill this really big role in two hours, and hopefully I can fit the needs of the students.”
The victim advocate position is not a wholly confidential resource. According to Schwartz-Johnson’s email, Miller will be required to provide the Title IX office with basic information to help “track patterns of sexual or interpersonal violence on and off campus, evaluate the scope of the problem, and formulate appropriate campus-wide responses.” However, she will not have to share information that would directly or indirectly identify the survivor or other parties involved.
Students can schedule a one-hour appointment with Miller by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.