For years, the Advocacy Center at Syracuse University has operated as a separate department in the health center building. Staff are trained to assist and support sexual assault and relationship violence victims. This week, Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud announced the Advocacy Center will close and sexual assault victim services will move to the university's Counseling Center. Current SU seniors Anthony and Eric McGriff volunteer at the Advocacy Center. They say consolidating into a larger department will take away the sensitive and specialized assistance victims need.
"It has allowed those whose voices often go unheard to be heard," said Anthony McGriff. "What is happening and the splitting up of the departments, it's heartbreaking."
Wednesday is the last day the Advocacy Center will be open. Eric McGriff is concerned that the University's new plan will discourage reporting of sexual assaults rather than make it easier.
"We are taking a step back. The Advocacy Center was created with the Chancellor, with the school's task force, with the students, as a solution to sexual assault and everything that has been going on at this campus," said Eric McGriff. "it's been working effectively. We've been ahead of the curve for universities around the country and now we're taking it away."
In statements, Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud and Dean of Student Affairs Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz said there are five offices on the campus providing victim services and reference federal reporting standards as a reason for the consolidation. Neither Kantrowitz or Syverud were made available to take questions on the Advocacy Center's closing.
In a statement provided to CNYCentral, Kantrowitz said "With the counseling center serving as the primary entry point for students, it will be a completely confidential and privileged place for student impacted by sexual violence, in conformity with federal government guidelines. the result will be more comprehensive and effective services for students affected by sexual violence."
In April, Anthony and Eric McGriff attended a White House forum on sexual violence. They say the university's claims that the advocacy center is not compatible with Federal Title IX standards don't add up.
"We talked specifically with people from the task force - the people who wrote this law - and they told us that not only is the advocacy center that we have here good, it is an ideal model," said Eric McGriff.
Volunteers say they have been told that most of the current Advocacy Center staff will not be moving to the Counseling Center. Statements from Syracuse University only say that two new positions focusing on sexual assaults and relationship violence will be created.
Over the past four days, four thousand people have signed a petition asking to keep the Advocacy Center open.