University of Minnesota
Roberta Gibbons (left), associate director, and Jamie Tiedemann, director, have served the Aurora Center for 11 and 21 years, respectively.
Photo: Rick Moore
A strong advocate for survivors
The Aurora Center aids survivors of sexual assault and relationship violence
By Rick Moore
The U’s Aurora Center faces a formidable task—providing crisis intervention and support to victims of sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking, and harassment. And the number served never seems to decline.
But an air of positive energy pervades its bright offices on the fourth floor of Boynton Health Service, and there’s a host of people and accomplishments behind that feeling.
The center, which has a staff of six and serves about 300 people a year, is bolstered by the work of more than 60 trained student volunteers, many of whom advocate for victims.
And it boasts strong working relationships with campus organizations like the University of Minnesota Police Department (UMPD), Boynton Health Services, Disability Services, the Parent Program, and the Office of Student Affairs.
A national model
U.S. Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson was in town in late March for a panel discussion about violence against women on campus. Robinson heralded the Aurora Center as “not only a significant force here on the U of M campus, but one that we really cite to universities and colleges across the country for the kind of groundbreaking precedent in the work that it has done.”
(The center has received $1.4 million in grant funding over the past decade from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.)
The Aurora Center has a long-standing partnership with the UMPD to arrange for transportation to and from appointments downtown, according to Jamie Tiedemann, the center’s director for 21 years.
“We will call and they will send over a squad (and most of the time they try to make it unmarked), and transport them—the advocate and the survivor,” Tiedemann says.
“Most often it will be with regard to a restraining order,” adds associate director Roberta Gibbons. “People feel a lot safer knowing it’s a police officer who’s dropping them off at the front door of the government center, and picking them up as well.”
And U students are stepping up to help at the Aurora Center in amazing numbers as legal advocates, violence prevention educators, and help line volunteers—all positions that require 20-40 hours of training—as well as volunteers for special projects.
“We both serve students and try to provide leadership opportunities for them, including the experience of doing the really hard work of answering a help line and going to court with people,” Gibbons says. “Students have proven over and over again how competent they are.”
Beyond the numbers
Gibbons and Tiedemann have noticed a couple of trends in the people they see: more complicated, time-consuming cases often involving relationship violence, and a sharp increase in the number of parents coming in for advice about their students. In addition, staff and faculty account for 10 to 15 percent of clients.
Tiedemann points out what she calls the incredible support from the Office of Student Affairs, especially Vice Provost Jerry Rinehart. “Without him,” she says, “we would not be where we’re at in terms of unconditional support for our work. … He gets it; he understands it.”
That can mean understanding the paradox that when the center is serving more victims, it’s not necessarily a bad sign.
“It makes me feel really good that more and more people are seeking our services, seeking help, and feeling empowered to do that and feeling safe to do that,” says Tiedemann. “When our numbers go up, it doesn’t mean [sexual assault and relationship violence are] happening more,” Tiedemann says. “It’s that more people are getting help.”