On Wednesday, Sept. 15, the Violence, Rape and Abuse Crisis Center (VARCC) had its official ribbon-cutting grand opening at Binghamton University.
The VARCC offers students access to multiple staff members of different organizations — including the deputy Title IX coordinator, bystander prevention services, the Consultation, Advocacy, Referral and Education (CARE) team and the Crime Victims Assistance Center (CVAC) — all in one place in order to streamline the reporting process for survivors. One of the initial goals for the VARCC, as stated by Johann Fiore-Conte, associate vice president for student affairs and chief health and wellness officer, in a Feb. 2021 Bing U News article, was to create a “secure, comfortable space” that connects the many different offices which handle sexual assault and interpersonal violence concerns. A new development at the VARCC has been the addition of a trauma specialist role in the University Counseling Center (UCC).
The VARCC was first created in fall 2020, when BU President Harvey Stenger announced via B-Line that the University would create the Center in response to student demands for better sexual assault reporting and prevention resources. The Center has been fully operational and providing services in its Old Johnson Hall office since the spring 2021 semester, but this grand opening event allowed students, faculty and staff to tour the office space and become acquainted with its physical amenities.
As the Center occupies a central location on campus, the VARCC team members hope students will be able to easily access the resources they need. According to Amy Zieziula, deputy Title IX coordinator, the presence of multiple services in one office as well as VARCC’s ties to Health Promotion and Prevention Services (HPPS) will help provide support for survivors.
“The VARCC provides a safe and healing space for survivors of interpersonal violence,” Zieziula wrote in an email. “It serves as a co-location of services with various staff members, such as the CARE Team, university advocate, deputy Title IX coordinator, UCC counselor, Residence Life liaison and CVAC’s confidential advocate. The VARCC works closely with HPPS, and if victims would like to meet with staff members from the Office of Student Conduct, [Binghamton’s New York State University Police (UPD)] and/or other offices on campus, the VARCC can work to coordinate that meeting.”
Anna Jantz, a VARCC team member and the case management coordinator for the CARE Team, said a main goal for the VARCC this year is making sure it is a well-known campus resource among students.
“One of the main goals for this year is to make sure students know about the VARCC and establish a strong presence on campus,” Jantz wrote in an email. “For many, the VARCC represents the importance of addressing sexual violence within our [University] community. I hope that students see the space as a reminder that their experiences matter and there are supports and resources for them. Interpersonal violence can be highly isolating, and we want victims and survivors to know they are not alone in their healing journey.”
In attendance at the VARCC’s grand opening were David Hatami, Student Association (SA) president and a senior double-majoring in political science and business administration, and Sakib Choudhury, executive vice president of the SA and a senior majoring in computer engineering. Hatami expressed that the VARCC’s opening was a symbolic moment for students and the nationwide push to end sexual violence on college campuses.
“Sexual harassment and assault continue to be a difficult and often unrecognized issue which plagues not only our campus community, but campuses all across the country,” Hatami wrote in an email. “I think the Center’s grand opening proves that the University is beginning to take the issue of sexual violence much more seriously, and that our campus leadership has been listening to the needs of our student body in an increasingly proactive manner.”
Choudhury echoed Hatami’s sentiments, saying he was impressed with the VARCC’s office and all the efforts that went into making the Center a helpful resource for all students.
“After seeing VARCC’s physical office space, it was clear to me that the University put forward many resources and care into crafting this space as a resource for all students,” Choudhury wrote in an email. “I was impressed by the physical appearance of the office and how luxurious and elegant the space felt while walking through. The [grand opening] of the VARCC was a great way to showcase the resources this center will put forward to students and served as an information session for all those who attended.”
Zieziula and other VARCC staff members have been working to engage with the student population throughout the semester, from tabling at University Fest in August to giving a presentation at the SA Fall Leadership Conference. Zieziula said she hopes this type of engagement will continue to ensure students are well versed in what VARCC can provide for them.
“The [grand opening] was well attended, and many folks took the time to tour the space, and share their thoughts and ideas on the center,” Zieziula wrote. “We are hopeful that we can continue to engage the campus community about the VARCC and its services through presentations and workshops.”
However, Hatami noted that though there were many people in attendance at the event, he noticed there were not many students.
“While many members of faculty and administration were present at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, there was a noticeable lack of students in attendance,” Hatami wrote. “While this may have been just a coincidence, I think it’s crucial that the University continues in promoting this space so that students are fully aware of the resources and tools at their disposal.”