At the end of October, Macalester welcomed Jen Jacobsen to the Laurie Hamre Center for Health & Wellness as the Director for Sexual Violence Prevention Education. The newly-created position marks a shift in the college’s system for addressing sexual violence.
“It’s considered best practice within the field to separate the reporting line from the prevention [and] education line,” Associate Dean for Student Services Denise Ward said. “We see the whole conversation around sexual respect being a really big piece of… sexual health, which we do a lot of education with.”
In the past, the Office of Title IX oversaw reporting of sexual violence in addition to coordinating prevention education. However, students became frustrated with the office’s struggle to adequately address both responsibilities.
Director of Health Promotion Lisa Broek said this frustration was a key motivator in bringing the new position to Health & Wellness and out of Title IX.
“Students really were vocal about the importance to separate out those two from a reporting structure versus an educational structure,” Broek said.
While the search for a new Title IX Coordinator following Timothy Dunn’s sudden resignation last spring is ongoing, Jacobsen will work from a public health perspective to improve Macalester’s culture of consent and help build a more trauma-informed community.
“I know this is a community that’s gone through some challenges and that it’s really important we give respect to those experiences that people have had,” Jacobsen said.
Jacobsen comes to Macalester from Grinnell College, where she worked as the Director of Wellness and Prevention as well as the Title IX Deputy for Prevention.
Before her career in student health, Jacobsen coached cross country and track and field at Lawrence University. Her experience with student-athletes helped spark her interest in working to improve student health more broadly.
While working at Grinnell, Jacobsen received a Master’s Degree of Public Health from the University of Minnesota.
“[The program] really resonated with me, with the kind of problem-solving I like to do,” Jacobsen said. “It’s systems-level work to help create environments where the pro-social decisions are the easier decisions to make.”
In her new role, Jacobsen’s responsibilities include shaping an overall program of sexual violence prevention education by coordinating with student organizations and facilitating conversations among community members.
One of the most ambitious goals of the new position is to bring about wider cultural change.
“Students are the experts on their own culture here,” Jacobsen said. “I’m eager to learn from them and to work together to create a shared vision of what this could look like.”
As such, Jacobsen intends to prioritize learning from existing student organizations and interest groups in her first weeks on campus. She has already embarked on a “listening tour,” hoping to learn more about what different groups on campus would like to see from her office.
“You have multicultural groups on campus, you have groups of students who are really invested specifically in the work around sexual violence prevention, you have your health promotions students and your SEXY educators, and your athletic teams, your student government,” Jacobsen said.
“My guess is every group is going to see their role — and what they think needs to happen on campus — a little bit differently,” she continued. “What are they proud of about the campus culture at Macalester and the work that’s been done here, and where would they like to see continuing change?”
Jacobsen brings experience in active bystander training to her new position, having written on the subject as part of the NCAA’s Step UP! active bystander curriculum.
Traditionally, Macalester has supported Green Dot, a bystander intervention training program that educates students about how to recognize sexual violence and prevent potentially dangerous situations from escalating.
Student groups and sports teams can request collective Green Dot trainings for their organizations, with open trainings for the general Macalester community available twice throughout the year.
“I’m really curious to learn more about the culture of Green Dot,” Jacobsen said. “If that’s what people are invested in and think is a good thing for the culture, then I will go get trained in Green Dot.”
Broek is hopeful that Jacobsen’s presence on campus will lead to positive change for the community.
“I think that the students would see this person, this role, as an advocate for them — I’m not talking about advocacy as in like the 40-hour training but I’m talking about being an advocate for students that feel disenfranchised about the process,” Broek said. “I have confidence that Jen is going to make a difference.”