New Sexual Assault Counselor Janell Mcgruder hopes to bring a focus on students to the Counseling Center in her new role.
The search committee to hire a new sexual assault counselor was created over the summer, and the process included phone interviews as well as the option of bringing candidates to campus. Mcgruder was hired after former counselor Allison Schieferle-Uhlenbrock accepted a different position in Peoria, Ill.
Director of Counseling Services Dan Larson said Mcgruder was not only the first candidate to be phone-interviewed, but that she “set the bar high.”
“When we brought her to campus, you could just see the fit,” Larson said. “The idea of putting the students first and being excited about being in the Counseling Center and working with the student groups. You know, things that we were looking for, she was kind of saying them before we could ask.”
He also spoke highly of Mcgruder’s receptiveness to campus climate and her desire to continually interact with dialogues about issues pertaining to sexual assault.
The Knox Student reached Mcgruder via email for this article, as she was unavailable in person due to time away from campus at a training for the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA).
“She’s getting her 40 hours of training through ICASA this week,” Larson said. “We’re getting her as many of those education experiences as we can.”
Mcgruder studied at an accredited Mental Health Counseling program at Western Illinois University, which prepared her to work closely with trauma. She stated that much of her experience that relates to her new position had to do with sexual assault.
“During my time as a Behavioral Health Specialist, my nine-year career in higher education, along with my academic career, I have had extensive experience in working with individuals who are survivors and perpetrators,” Mcgruder said in an email.
She said her relationship to Knox, though newly-formed, has so far been positive. Mcgruder cited her interactions with administration, staff and students all as instrumental in her desire to accept the position, specifically the student-focused tone of the conversations she had during the interview process.
“When being interviewed by the student representatives, they also had an overall respect for Knox College and wanting to see it continue to succeed,” she said. “The reasons I accepted the position have been consistent with my first impressions now that I am here.”
Junior Kaylie Padgett was among those who interviewed Mcgruder during her initial visit to campus as a candidate for the sexual assault counselor position. Padgett expressed excitement regarding Mcgruder’s evident understanding of Knox’s climate.
“She asked about Knox’s atmosphere and community sense toward things Title IX. She was very understanding of the rift between students and faculty, and the ways she can try and make everyone understand on their own parts,” Padgett said. “She has great experience, and the potential to help us change the way Knox deals with these issues.”
Senior Erica Witzig, a member of the team of students that meets regularly with staff and administrators for the purpose of Title IX reform, looked toward the future collaboration she foresees between Mcgruder and Knox students.
“We have discussed the formation of self-care days for sexual violence survivors, the state of Title IX activism on campus and a variety of other important subjects,” Witzig said. “Her passion for working with students on a professional and personal level is deeply evident.”
Part of Mcgruder’s job description is to work as a generalist counselor, available to any student who sets up an appointment. The other part includes not only being the point person on the counseling staff for sexual assault, but also advising clubs and organizations and creating new programming.
Larson described an initiative Mcgruder recently set up to assist with the Title IX reporting process, known as Advocate Hours, wherein survivors can explain their situations in a non-reporting space before making the decision to file a grievance claim.
“She’s like the other counselors; we’re not mandated reporters,” Larson said. “Students can actually go to her and say, ‘Here’s what I’m thinking about, and what is this all about.’ They have a chance to talk that out before they go forward.”
Senior Sithara Vincent, who is also a part of the Title IX reform campaign, praised this commitment and availability.
“She has free time if you have an emergency, and she has specific hours for survivors, for anxiety workshops and things like that,” Vincent said. “She also has specifically gone to clubs that she wants to work with, so like ASAP [Allies for Sexual Assault Prevention] and KAAMI [Knox Advocacy for Awareness of Mental Illness] and those kinds of clubs and she sets time aside in her week to meet with those people.”
Mcgruder said in an email that she’s ready to work toward a safer and healthier campus.
“I will continue to work with student groups and organizations and outside area resources in developing and organizing purposeful programs, along with providing a safe and confidential space for individuals to learn about resources in regards to sexual assault,” she said. “Fortunately, my experience at Knox has shown that the students, staff and administrators have an understanding of the importance of counseling and I want this to continue to be the case.”
Vincent agreed that Mcgruder’s aims are clear and that her interaction with Knox thus far supports these, particularly when it comes to student needs.
“She hasn’t been here long, but she already sees all of the issues going on on campus,” Vincent said. “She’s super willing to work with us in any way that she can.”