November 30, 2021 | Matt Kucinski

Calvin University is expanding its efforts toward keeping its campus community safe. The university’s grant application to the Department of Justice Office on Violence against Women (OVW) has been selected for an award. The OVW grant funds proposals which aim to reduce domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking on campuses.

“Sexual violence is not just something that happens outside of our community.  Keeping students safe on our campus has always been a top priority of ours, and at Calvin, it’s truly a team effort,” said Sarah Visser, vice president for student life. “This grant allows us to continue to strengthen these efforts, in collaboration with our amazing community partners, while further equipping our students to step up and lead.”

Equipping and supporting students

Calvin will use the $300,000 in funding over the next three years to create a Peer Education and Empowerment to Reduce Sexual Violence Team (PEERS Team). This team will provide peer education, awareness, and connect to students seeking ongoing help after sharing an experience of sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, or domestic violence.

The team will also strengthen victim services on campus, implement culturally and linguistically appropriate educational programs to reach traditional and underserved groups, and obtain technology for cyberstalking investigation and response.

“We are looking forward to expanding the ways we support our students, and we know that the more expertise and experience we can draw on, the better,” said Visser. “We are eager to work with our external partners who will offer wide-ranging support options for our students and community to prevent and respond to sexual violence.”

Expanding partnerships

Those partners include the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD), Safe Haven Ministries, and the YWCA. These organizations will provide student internships and trainings aimed at helping PEERS students deepen their understanding of prevention of these crimes, to acquire knowledge of local resources that respond to these situations, and to develop a new lens on survivor experience through connecting peers to appropriate support resources.

“We applaud Calvin University for taking meaningful steps to expand their current work. It is critical that victims of sexual assault, stalking, or dating abuse have access to the supports they deserve. That must happen alongside culture change efforts aimed at prevention,” said Charisse Mitchell, CEO of YWCA West Central Michigan. “The PEERS Team approach is designed to achieve both, and we are so pleased to be working with Calvin, Safe Haven Ministries, and the Grand Rapids Police Department on such an important effort.”

“Feelings of guilt and shame can make it difficult for victims of sexual violence to come forward and to help law enforcement hold perpetrators accountable,” said Eric Payne, GRPD chief. “Calvin University’s willingness to build a culture of sexual violence awareness and prevention while also improving access to support for victims is to be commended.”

“Safe Haven Ministries values collaboration because multi-sector partnership creates the possibility for innovative and critically needed response to the pervasive issue of violence," said Rachel VerWys, executive director of Safe Haven Ministries. "This award will build on foundational work the partners lead to prevent violence against women and bring our community and Calvin University to the next level in the work to increase trauma- informed solutions.”

For more information, contact Matt Kucinski at or 616-307-7429.


Founded in 1876, Calvin University is a top-ranked, liberal arts institution that equips its nearly 3,300 students from 47 U.S. states, 49 countries, and four Canadian provinces to think deeply, to act justly, and to live wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal in the world. Calvin is proud to offer 100+ majors and programs, including a growing number of graduate-level programs. Calvin students engage in intensive internships, community-based service learning, and significant research that results in publishing and presenting alongside world-class faculty.


The Grand Rapids Police Department exists to protect life and property, prevent crime, and ensure all people feel safe and are safe at all times. GRPD is committed to being an effective, inclusive, and modern police department and to advancing public safety while earning the trust and pride of those the department serves. The department values service delivered with compassion and courage; equity in providing fair and just services for all individuals; integrity of purpose and action; and being transparent and accountable.


Founded in 1990, Safe Haven Ministries provides critical shelter, advocacy, and empowering support to survivors of relationship abuse. Setting the organization apart, Safe Haven has decades of experience providing education and prevention resources to the entire community, including Calvin University, as well as healthcare and human service agencies, faith institutions, and other workplaces, creating a culture of abuse prevention.


Established in 1900, the YWCA provides the most comprehensive services and trauma-resolution techniques for domestic and dating abuse, sexual assault child sexual abuse, and stalking. Where racism and sexism give rise to domestic and sexual violence, the YWCA West Central Michigan transforms lives with expert services for victims, education to end those things that fuel abuse, and public policy that translates the YWCA’s mission into law.

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