Sexual violence prevention position filled

The University hired its first Sexual Violence and Education Coordinator, Dr. Elliot Ruggles, Jan. 13, eight months after students demanded change in UVM’s handling of sexual violence.

Ruggles begins their role at the University Feb. 22 under Dean of Students David Nestor’s supervision, Nestor said. Ruggles will have an office in Nicholson House where all students and UVM affiliates visit.

“It’s an honor to work directly with survivors […] and I carry all of their stories with me when I’m thinking of the prevention aspect of the role,” Ruggles said. “I’m excited to work on and form relationships with the students who are really passionate about this.”

Ruggles will conduct a needs-based assessment in order to find what students feel are the knowledge gaps in their experiences when they begin operating in their new position at UVM, they said.

“Unfortunately, throughout the U.S., we have varying degrees of comprehensive sexuality education,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to putting into practice some of that comprehensive sex ed training that I have.”

Ruggles specilizes in sex therapy, addiction and trauma recovery, culturally competent LGBTQ+ services, comprehensive sexuality education and sexual, gender-based and relationship violence prevention and adovacy, their LinkedIn profile stated.

Ruggles identifies as trans, queer and polyamourous and practices ethical non-monogamy, according to a Dec. 1 presentation to the UVM community.

Ruggles comes from a position at Brown University, where they oversaw a variety of peer education programs, according  the presentation.

Prior to working at Brown, Ruggles served as the Director of the Sexuality and Resource Center for SUNY Oneonta in New York, according  the presentation.

“This is really a dream job for me to have a little bit of creative license,” Ruggles said. “I’m really excited to get started with the work and get to know you all there.”

The search committee included Joe Russell, assistant dean of students for retention; senior Maddie Henson, SGA senator; Kelly Thorne, a sports psychologist and counseling coordinator at UVM; Genell Mikkalson, a nurse-midwife and clinical assistant professor at UVM; and Elise Prehoda, a second-year medical student.

Prehoda is a part of the committee because many reports of sexual misconduct implicated the College of Medicine and students have drawn attention to its shortcomings in medical education surrounding sexual assault, she said.

“My biggest core values are honesty, communication, and respect, and those are the three things anytime that I’m interviewing someone that I place at the forefront,” Prehoda said. “Elliot’s enthusiasm just exudes care.”

Nestor and Erica Caloiero, vice provost of student affairs, served as hiring officials for the process. They made the final decision as to who was hired, based on the recommendations of the committee.

“The search committee screened, interviewed and ensured a broad set of stakeholders were engaged in the interview process,” Caloiero said.

UVM first listed the position Aug. 3, Caloiero stated in a Feb. 3 email. Initially 37 people applied, but over three or four months the committee narrowed the applicant pool down to three finalists, Henson said.

The committee conducted hour-long interviews with each of the three finalists.

The committee sought out candidates willing to break norms and exceed minimum expectations and goals of the position, Henson said. She wanted the role to be filled by someone unafraid to push the status quo.

“I really hope [Ruggles’ position] will foster a new life and shift the dialogue towards positive sexuality, consent work, restorative justice, holding perpetrators accountable and making sure that survivors are heard,” Henson said.

Henson said she and other committee members hope this position involves preventative sexual assault work with an emphasis on helping BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals.

“[The University] cannot absolve themselves now of any harm that they’ve done, but they should continue to hear student demands, student voices and continue the conversation,” Henson said. “The conversation doesn’t end with Ruggles’ hiring.”