- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

DETROIT (AP) - The state will fund sexual assault prevention programs at 22 Michigan universities and colleges as part of an effort spearheaded by first lady Sue Snyder.

The recipients of the Campus Sexual Assault Grant Program were announced Wednesday, ranging from $953 for Northwestern Michigan College to $60,000 for Lake Superior State.

State officials announced the $500,000 total funding in June, when Snyder helped host the state’s first campus sexual assault prevention summit. Appropriated from the state’s general fund budget, the awards are the next step in the Snyder’s “Inform. Empower. Prevent. Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault.” initiative.

It’s a national issue that few have wanted to talk about openly, Snyder told The Associated Press.

“I think that’s part of the big problem,” she said. “For far too long, we’ve just been sweeping it under the rug.”

Schools were encouraged to submit two grant applications; 33 were received and more than $1.6 million was requested. Some of the other large awards were $53,926 to Eastern Michigan, $38,016 to the University of Michigan and $34,321 to Saginaw Valley State University.

“It’s terrific the state is stepping up and putting additional money toward this problem, which is a problem on pretty much every college campus in America,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Washington D.C.-based Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. “Most states have not done a lot, yet.”

The amounts of individual awards given to Michigan schools varied due to the criteria - education, awareness, prevention, reporting and bystander intervention - sought.

Prevention programs try to engage students and teach them “what to look for and how to react if they sense a situation is about to turn violent” or if a friend is being touched in way that makes him or her uncomfortable, Berkowitz added.

Proposals in Michigan included training for first responders, bystander training programs, emphasis on student participation, collaboration with local bars and businesses and the creation of networks to improve access to sexual assault prevention resources.

One proposal receiving funding involves drink coasters that will turn a different color when drops of tampered-with alcoholic beverages are poured on them.

“Alcohol, I would say it plays a pretty large role,” Snyder said. “You start drinking, you lose your inhibitions.”

Buy-in from students on the various campuses is a must.

“It’s all up to them,” Snyder said. “If we don’t have them on board, this is not going to move forward.”

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