College life in Pittsburgh

A new app will make resources more accessible for sexual assault survivors at Carlow

Students may not have their handbooks. But they have a smartphone.

carlow
Courtesy of Carlow University
MJ Slaby

A new state grant will soon bring resources for sexual assault survivors to students’ smartphones at Carlow University.

Right now, information, from how to report a sexual assault to support services such as counseling, is all in the student handbook.

But if something happens, students are usually not in a place where they can dig out their handbook or access it on a computer, said Jennifer Carlo, vice president for student engagement and dean of students at Carlow. But they do have their phones.

That’s why the handbook in app form will give students the resources they need (for themselves or to help a classmate), she said. Plus, the app would have information that’s not in the handbook, such as bus schedules, phone numbers for cab services, and ride-sharing information.

In the past three years, there was one report of rape to either Carlow officials or campus police in 2014, and two reports of fondling (one in 2014 and one in 2015). All three incidents happened in on-campus residence halls.

Data the university uses for its annual safety report only include incidents that happen on-campus and in the areas immediately surrounding it. If something happens in a suburb or in city neighborhoods that are farther away from campus like the South Side, the university could provide support services, but those reports wouldn’t be in the total count, Carlo said.

Carlo said the sexual violence guidebook app is something that other universities have, and it makes sense for Carlow, where a lot of students live off campus. (Forty-eight percent of traditional undergraduate students live on campus, according to the university data for this semester.)

Funding comes from the “first-ever ‘It’s On Us PA’ grants to combat campus sexual assault,” as announced by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration last week. Wolf set aside the almost $1 million in funding for the grants in the 2016-2017 budget. The state campaign is part of the national “It’s On Us” movement launched in 2014 by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

To apply for the grant, universities had to propose strategies to address the three goals of the state’s sexual assault prevention campaign. The app aims to provide resources and reduce barriers to reporting sexual assault, according to Carlow’s grant. The other two goals were to “improve awareness, prevention, reporting and response systems” and to challenge everyone on campus to pledge to improve the campus culture and climate.

Carlow received $27,940 of the maximum $30,000 and was one of 36 schools chosen to be funded by the grant. In addition to Carlow, three other Pittsburgh colleges received the grant: Point Park University, $10,265; University of Pittsburgh, $12,750; and Community College of Allegheny County, $30,000.

Now that the funds are available, Carlo said she hopes the app will be available to students as soon as possible, either in the spring semester or by the fall. The goal is to have 20 percent of students download the app within six months of its release. She said that estimate uses the number of students in orientation, as well as a reasonable number of returning students.

“We wanted a goal that’s realistic and ambitious,” she said.

Carlo estimated that up to 15 percent of the funding — roughly $4,200 — will go toward the app’s creation. Carlow will work with a company that developed this guidebook for other schools, she said.

The rest of the grant will largely go toward a larger Carlow initiative called “Have Mercy,” which includes additional orientation programing about sexual assault, an It’s On Us video campaign, training and upgrades to the emergency alert system.