Learning the Ropes: First Week with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health

It’s only week one, but I can already tell that my summer internship at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is going to be a whirlwind of a learning experience! Since the DPH is such a vast organization, I suppose I should clarify where exactly I’ll be situated… and how I got here. This summer, I have the exciting opportunity to intern with the DPH’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Survivor Services Unit, or “SAPSS,” as it’s colloquially called around the office. The SAPSS Unit is dedicated to changing social norms that foster sexual violence, encouraging a state-wide climate in which sexual assault is not tolerated, as well as promoting and enhancing effective and accessible services for all survivors of sexual assault. This means allocating funds to rape crisis centers and other organizations, advocating for sexual assault prevention policies and programs, and providing information about sexual assault and various other resources to agencies and individuals throughout Massachusetts. I secured my internship by getting in touch with Marci Diamond, the Director of the unit (and a Brandeis alum!), and talking with her about how my passion for social justice and sexual violence prevention work might be an asset to the department. An internship with SAPSS seemed like the perfect professional growth opportunity, and so far it’s living up to expectations: I have already met so many interesting and important people to learn from.

The scenic Charles River on my commute home!
The scenic Charles River on my commute home!

As an intern for this incredible group of dedicated professionals, I’m set to take on quite a few tasks throughout the summer. I’m responsible for staffing a group called the Higher Education Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Working Group, which is comprised of leaders from many Massachusetts colleges and universities that work to collaborate on sexual assault prevention. This committee plans university-based informational summits (such as one which was held at Brandeis last fall!), and has regular conference calls to discuss their various ongoing projects.

I’ll also be using surveys to collect, and later analyze, data on Massachusetts rape crisis centers and the ways they are preventing sexual violence. This data will serve as an inventory of the prevention work and capacity-building that rape crisis centers, or “RCCs,” are doing throughout the year. My eventual analysis of the data I collect over the next few weeks will help to inform federal reports regarding the prevention of rape and sexual assault in our state and hopefully help to improve prevention outcomes. All of these projects, and the people I’ll get to work with, will teach me valuable lessons necessary for a career in sexual violence prevention. I’m especially excited to learn more about the field’s data collection and analysis methods, with which I’ll be working closely; proficiency with these programs (like Excel, Qualtrix and even Surveymonkey) are important skills for any future profession I might choose.

This is a list of the rape crisis centers in Massachusetts that I'll be surveying on their prevention efforts.
This is a handy list of the RCCs in Massachusetts that I’ll be surveying on their prevention efforts.

One of my favorite things I’ve noticed throughout the past week is how closely SAPSS works with other relevant units. SAPSS is part of the Division of Violence & Injury Prevention, which also includes other units such as Suicide Prevention, Injury Prevention, and Youth Violence Prevention. All these teams collaborate and communicate with one another on ways to achieve their common goal of making Massachusetts safer overall. This incredible teamwork makes for a great work and learning environment; I’m enthusiastic about spending my summer not only with SAPSS, but as a part of this remarkable DPH community.

Author: Victoria Jonas

Victoria Jonas is a rising senior at Brandeis University, with majors in Psychology and Women's & Gender Studies. She is an intern with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in the Sexual Assault Prevention & Survivor Services Unit.