Enhancing UM Student Services and Advocacy Resources

Q&A with Kate Forster and Shelli Poole

Kate Forster, director of advocacy with UMatter: Student Support and Advocacy, (left) and Shelli Poole, with the Violence Prevention Program, spoke to Inside Ole Miss regarding how UMatter serves the Ole Miss community through support and advance resources. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Kate Forster, director of advocacy with UMatter: Student Support and Advocacy, (left) and Shelli Poole, with the Violence Prevention Program, spoke to Inside Ole Miss regarding how UMatter serves the Ole Miss community through support and advance resources. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

UMatter: Student Support and Advocacy assists students facing challenges as a way to promote personal and academic success. Housed in the Division of Student Affairs, UMatter has three case managers who handle student advocacy, sexual assault response and violence intervention and prevention, as well as student-of-concern reports.

IOM recently visited with Kate Forster, director of advocacy, and Shelli Poole, with the Violence Prevention Program, to find out more about how UMatter serves the Ole Miss community through support and advocacy resources.

Q: Tell us a little bit more about UMatter and how it contributes to a culture of care at UM.

Forster: UMatter is composed of two main bodies of work: our Violence Prevention work and our student CARE work.

Our student CARE work provides support for students who are impacted by unexpected or ongoing challenges. In the course of a student’s academic career, there may be challenges and/or concerns that come up that impact that student’s overall success at the university. The goal of UMatter staff members is to be a central resource where students can connect to appropriate university resources, policies, community supports and get accurate information regarding their options at the university.

We also serve as a central resource for faculty, staff, other students and parents to reach out when they are concerned about how a student is doing. We are often looped in by others in our community when our students have been impacted by unexpected or ongoing challenges. 

Q: Can you share more about the specific services for students?

Forster: In our student CARE work, we have case managers that meet with students to explore the concerns that the students are facing. The case managers offer information about resources that may be beneficial to the student and also help the student come up with a game plan for their next steps.

There are students that we meet with once, and there are students that we might be in touch with over a period of time to ensure that they are connected to resources and doing well in the community. We offer trainings to our campus partners on when to make a CARE report for a student and how to recognize indicators of distress. We also offer trainings to student groups on self-care, referring friends and awareness of campus resources.

Poole: The Violence Prevention Program offers a range of services, including academic accommodations, which means I reach out to instructors to help provide a reasonable support plan during this difficult time. We also provide accompaniment to UPD or OPD to report to law enforcement, as well accompaniment to Student Health and Baptist Memorial Hospital for medical care, evidence collection and/or STI testing.

Additional services include letters of support to maintain financial aid, housing accommodations – including safe rooms in female and male residence halls – no-contact directives and parking accommodations.

Q: How can students find you and how do they access the support and resources UMatter offers?

Forster: Our UMatter.olemiss.edu website has great information about our services, where to find us, as well as our online CARE report. Most of our students come to us by way of the CARE report, but many are walk-ins or referrals from campus partners. We have a case management team for our CARE report work with office locations in the Student Union and in Stewart Hall for residential student.

Poole: For the Violence Prevention Program, students are welcome to drop by my office in Longstreet Hall, Room 309; email sapoole@olemiss.edu; or call 662-915-1059. Many students prefer to email to set up an appointment. For detailed information about available resources, students can also look at umsafe.olemiss.edu. 

Q: What would you say to a student who is concerned about confidentiality?

Forster: For any conversation in which a student may be disclosing a Title IX-related incident in which they were the victim, our conversations are confidential. We have confidential designation through our EORC office and we share this with all incoming students in orientation sessions.

We also have a range of digital screens and paper flyers around campus that highlight the confidential services we can provide.

Our CARE report conversations are protected by federal laws, but to protect a student’s safety and the community’s safety, there are times when information needs to be shared with appropriate campus partners. Our overall approach in UMatter is to be very protective of student’s private information. 

Poole: I serve as the Violence Prevention Program advocate, and as such I am a confidential resource for students affected by sexual violence. This confidentiality is designated by the university and therefore, I am not a mandatory reporter unless there is a threat to campus. 

Q: Tell us some of the signs we should look for if we are concerned that a student might need help.

Forster: We support students facing any number of challenges that impact their ability to persist at the university. Some signs that a student might be struggling: Changes in behavior, difficulty with the transition to college, a recent loss, isolation, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, major medical concern, injury or accident, financial hardships.

Our office is always happy to consult with campus partners about concerns for our students to determine if a CARE report is needed.

Q: Can parents reach out to UMatter?

Forster: Yes! And they do quite often. Because parents know their students so well, they may be the first to be aware of significant changes in behavior that may be concerning. They also may be the first to know that their student was hospitalized and needs assistance.

We also work with parents to help them understand the options their student has at the university. It is important to note that we only talk with parents when we have the student’s permission, when parents are reporting concerns on the front end, or if there is a concern about the health/safety of their student.

Q: What are some of the ways you collaborate with other departments and student organizations?

Poole: In the VPP, I work closely with UPD, Title IX, the Office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct, Student Health Center, Housing, faculty members, the Sarah Isom Center, CICCE and UMatter: Student Support and Advocacy. We all serve on the Coordinated Community Response Team, which works to create a campuswide response to sexual violence.

I advise the RASA (Rebels Against Sexual Assault) peer education program. Peer educators also give presentations in classrooms, residence halls and Greek houses to educate on consent and bystander intervention. RASA also raises awareness to create a cultural shift that support survivors. 

Q: Tell us about the goals the Violence Prevention Program has for this school year.

Poole: My goal is for every student to know about the Violence Prevention Program’s services. I hope that every student knows we are here for them, and they are not alone.

So many students I talk to feel isolated and experience self-blame following an experience of sexual violence. I want them to know they aren’t alone and there are people and support to help them heal and move forward to meet their personal and academic goals.

I have tripled the training I did last year by training in three to four EDHE classes a week, pre-recruitment, residence halls and Greek houses. We also added education for graduate students and our incoming faculty and staff. I train specifically on consent, bystander intervention as well as the VPP services available in the event there is an incident.

I’ve started giving more specific example for intimate partner violence to help people recognize the red flags in their own relationships, and I suggest ways to intervene if someone has a friend who appears to be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship.

I’m also aiming to raise awareness across the UM campus of how trauma impacts survivors. I believe every student, faculty and staff member and administrator should be aware of the trauma that survivors of sexual violence experience and actively create a safe and supportive environment for them to heal. 

Q: What is the most important thing to share with someone who may have experienced a sexual assault, intimate partner violence or stalking?

Poole: It’s important for survivors to know it wasn’t their fault, and they are not alone. Often, survivors blame themselves, but there is nothing they did that should have resulted in sexual assault or intimate partner violence. There are services and support to assist a student in discovering their own healing journey. 

Q: What can we expect to see from UMatter this school year?

Forster: This year, we are working to highlight the work of the Violence Prevention Program with the goal to increase our students’ awareness of resources, reporting options and services available. We already have digital screens up in several buildings and have shared information with all incoming first year, transfer and graduate students. 

In the spring semester, we will also be participating in the JED Campus program, which looks at our university’s overall approach to student wellness, with a specific focus on suicide prevention. This program will involve the creation of a campus team dedicated to promoting this work in our community and a campus survey that will explore student attitudes toward our campus resources, access of those resources, and a general sense of our students’ experience with wellness and wellness-related issues when they come to the University of Mississippi.

For more information, visit http://umatter.olemiss.edu/ or http://umsafe.olemiss.edu/.