Doing Everything We Can to Keep our Students Safe

Doing Everything We Can to Keep our Students Safe

Posted on January 12, 2015

2 comments 2240 Views

A new mobile app becomes part of a wider campaign to prevent sexual assault on WOU campus

By Carol Dennis and Jeff Denton

With a new focus on a very old problem, incidents of sexual assault on college campuses across the country have grabbed headlines and raised questions about the safety of our children as we send them off to college – many who are on their own for the first time. Western Oregon University’s Abby’s House (Center for Women and Families) is joining a growing number of universities to develop campus-specific smart-phone apps that will give students easy access to resources to keep them safe from assault, and provide support and advocacy if a student has been a victim or witness of a sexual assault.

Abby’s House is a resource and referral center offering a wide range of information and supports on issues such as “sexual violence, relationship violence, sexual harassment, stalking, stress and anxiety, depression, suicide, women's heath, breast cancer, contraception, STD testing, substance abuse, eating disorders, gender identity, and child abuse,” according to their website. Their mission is to:

provide the Western Oregon University (WOU) community with educational programming, information, and referral services designed to promote equity and non-violence. We embrace a feminist model that empowers all people to actively stand against all forms of violence, harassment, verbal abuse, discrimination, and hatred.”

To that end, Abby’s House staff, along with student advocates and volunteers, applied for a WOU Foundation grant to created a media campaign that would give the WOU community tools to increase awareness and safety.

In early 2014, under the supervision of Abby’s House Director and TRI Assistant Research Professor Dr. Mary Ellen Dello Stritto, student advocates Hannah Towle and Jennifer Ruks were awarded the grant and the work began.

“We proposed a three-pronged approach,” says Dr. Dello Stritto. “that includes a poster campaign, 'myth-busting' videos, and a mobile app that would put resources and knowledge, quite literally at the fingertips of every student on campus.”

Abby's House Poster

With the assistance of WOU Art Professor Jen Bracy, Abby’s House student advocates were able to create a powerful poster campaign increasing awareness of the resources available at both Abby’s House and Stonewall Center, WOU’s LGBTQ resource center. The posters were distributed around campus May 2014, and will continue to be used in association with campaigns advocating to end violence on campus.

The “myth-busting” videos are currently wrapping up filming and editing.

The smart-phone app would take a very specialized type of expertise.

“Shortly after the grant was awarded,” says Dr. Dello Stritto, “we approached the Technology & Information Management Services Center (TIMS) at Teaching Research Institute (TRI) with the idea of building a mobile app.”

Because Abby’s House Director, Dello Stritto, is also on staff at TRI, she knew that TIMS would be able to help. The amount of funding available to build the mobile app was small – only around $1500 - and Jeff Denton, Lead Web Developer within TIMS, found the challenge an exciting one.

From Jeff Denton -

An App on a Small Budget (here’s the geeky stuff)

Building a mobile app with such a small budget presents many challenges. The TIMS center was able to meet these challenges through prior mobile development experience and by using some innovative and free, open source tools. As the Lead Web Developer with the TIMS center, I built the app using a combination of the Titanium mobile development environment and the ChariTi framework for Titanium. Titanium provides a complete mobile app development platform that facilitates native, cross-platform app development using JavaScript. ChariTi is a Titanium project that allows mobile apps to be built quickly using content from blogs, Facebook, Google Calendar, Flickr, and other social media sites.  

App Features (here’s what it offers WOU students)

Since the primary purpose of this app is to increase awareness of Abby’s House resources, the home screen presents the user with a list of quick tips and articles around dating and intimate partner violence. Another screen within the app features a WOU campus map with pins identifying locations where a student can receive help or information including Campus Public Safety and the Student Health & Counseling Center. Contact information for broader community resources like law enforcement, survivor advocacy centers, shelters, and counseling services are provided on another page. 

Updating the App (a TIMS innovation)

A big problem for mobile app maintenance is the fact that even minor changes to the app or its content often require modifications by the developer and resubmission to any relevant app stores. This process can often take weeks!  A feature of the Abby’s House app is that its content is delivered through wiki pages within a closed TRI website group. This means that any Abby’s House staff or student worker who is a member of this group can add or update content for the mobile app by simply editing the group wiki - no developer or app store approval needed.

The Abby’s House mobile app is now available in the iTunes App Store. A version for Android phones should be available on Google Play in early 2015.

Every Student on Campus Deserves to be Safe

In partnership with TRI, with the financial support of the WOU Foundation, and in concert with a national movement devoted to addressing sexual violence on college campuses, Abby’s House is creating a comprehensive set of tools to promote a cultural climate on the WOU campus that sexual assault will not be tolerated. This exciting and creative endeavor illustrates the commitment and passion WOU students have in participating in this movement, as well as the productive collaborations between programs on campus that serve to enhance the experiences of all students at WOU.

Click here for a review of the app from a student's POV.

Get Abby's House on the App Store


This is SUCH a great resource -- and much more accessible than a website! I'll be keeping an eye out for the Android version.

Kjerstin Stanavige

Posted Jan 13, 2015 by Kjerstin Stanavige

I hope more campuses decide to use this idea. Great use of technology to make campus safer!

Posted Jan 18, 2015 by Amber Dennis

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