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Project Safe: A Faculty Primer

If a student reaches out to a faculty member for assistance on matters related to sexual assault, dating violence, stalking, or other sexual misconduct the faculty member’s initial response should include a call to the Title IX coordinator and a referral to Project Safe. “We are a central hub of all resources, both university-based and community-based. Thus, we provide support and resource referral to the appropriate avenue or avenues for assistance based on the student’s individual needs,” notes Cara Tuttle Bell, Director of Project Safe. Although some students have the perception that Project Safe exists to support Vanderbilt undergraduate students, that belief is not the case. “We serve all Vanderbilt students,” Bell emphasized. “We can arrange to get a student to the right place whether they are an undergraduate student, graduate student, or professional student. We want the entire Vanderbilt community to know that we are here for you, regardless.” Project Safe provides support to students regardless of when and where the incident occurred, including any power-based personal violence experienced before enrollment.

Some faculty have questions about how Project Safe and the Psychological & Counseling Center (PCC) fit together in terms of the resources available to faculty. “We are striving for faculty to think of Project Safe as a crucial contact for students dealing with sexual assault. Certainly, if a student is agitated and in distress, the faculty member might consider walking the student to the PCC. You can also call us at Project Safe (615-322-Safe) and we will come to your office to escort the student to our facility, to VUPD, the PCC, Student Health, or the Emergency Department, as needed.”

Although the PCC is a confidential resource, meaning they are not required to report student sexual misconduct to the Title IX coordinator, Project Safe is “private, not confidential,” Bell stressed. What this means is that Project Safe must refer the incident to the University’s Title IX Coordinator, who will reach out to the student and invite them to provide information. The information provided assists the Title IX Coordinator in deciding how the University will respond, which may include an investigation. Faculty may be hesitant to reach out to or refer a student who is the victim of sexual assault to Project Safe because of this mandated reporting requirement. “Faculty do not have the right to not report,” Bell noted, “but students have the right to not participate.” However, the mandated reporter status of a faculty member does not set up the students who have experienced power-based personal violence for participation in an investigation in which they decline to participate; the student’s participation is optional.