Winona State University has a new advocate in the fight against gender-based violence.

The Office of Legal Affairs announced WSU alumna Heather Gerdes has been hired to serve as the campus Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Intervention Coordinator. In this position, Gerdes will work to enhance programming to reduce sexual assault, dating and relationship violence, stalking and sexual harassment.

While the position may be new, Gerdes is no stranger to WSU. In addition to receiving her undergraduate degree in communication studies at WSU, she is also currently working toward a master’s degree in educational leadership and has worked with WSU’s RE Initiative since March 2014.

“This position will assist in the continuation of addressing sexual violence and other gender-based violence on the WSU campus and in the community by continuing our efforts to streamline best practices both on and off campus,” Gerdes said. “The position will continue to provide support, consultation and training for the on-campus peer education—bystander intervention education—and the peer advocacy programs.”

Since 2014, Gerdes has helped the RE Initiative establish the WSU 24/7 Confidential GBV Helpline, created a stronger partnership between WSU and the Women’s Resource Center in Winona, and expanded the bystander intervention trainings into the community, with help from WSU graduate student Michael Krug.

This past winter, student advocates reached out to local bars to offer training to bartenders and bouncers about when and how to intervene in dangerous situations.

“Often times things may seem obvious to people, but they don’t know how to intervene,” Gerdes said. “When we go through the education session, [we ask] what are ways for bystanders to be an active bystander? Where can we step in to stop a potential assault?”

As for the future of preventing violence, Gerdes said she plans to continue creating new avenues for education on the WSU campus for students, security, staff and faculty. Gerdes said she hopes to improve the prevention and intervention strategies to strengthen the response to campus and community-wide violence.

“I want to continue the work I started because I truly believe we can make a difference on our college campuses that does create a safe community, accountability for perpetrators of violence, provide resources for full recovery for survivors of violence, as well as create a culture that does not tolerate these acts of violence,” Gerdes said. “I want to continue developing and implementing a comprehensive education for students focusing on prevention, bystander intervention, campus and community resources, and victims’ rights.”

For more information, contact Lori Mikl at