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Reducing violence against women on college campuses

March 31, 2000

Robyn L. Loda

A U.S. Department of Justice grant will allow Tulane to lead a multi-university effort to help reduce violence against women on college campuses. The $500,000 award will fund a two-year program that will connect the resources of three campuses with agencies in metropolitan New Orleans.

Judith Salter Lewis, associate professor of social work, is the principal investigator acquiring the grant for Tulane. A member of Mayor Marc Morial's subcommittee on domestic violence, Lewis says she has developed ties to colleagues on other campuses and social agencies throughout the community. She credits this "ready-made" network with alerting her to the federal grant that ideally suited a vision she had been nurturing for such a multi-campus project.

"The grant was specifically allotted for intervention on campuses and it defined 'violence' broadly, including sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking," she says.

Lewis' citywide connections also allowed her to quickly assemble a group to put together the proposal in a mere three weeks. Collaborators included Pam Jenkins, a sociology professor at the University of New Orleans; Susan Bryson, director of UNO's women's center; and Taryn Lindhorst, a research assistant at Southern University of New Orleans.

"It was like, 'Do you want to give up the month of July to do this project?'" laughs Lewis. "But we all did. We knew that the fit was too perfect not to apply for this grant."

The grant is part of $8.1 million in funding awarded by the Department of Justice. Of the 21 colleges and universities to receive funding, Tulane acquired the second-largest amount. One of only three proposals in the Southeast to receive a grant, the project stood out because it offered a broad, three-campus approach to the critical problem of violence against women in university settings, says Lewis.

"The committee was clearly looking for proposals to get at the problem in unique ways," she says. "It's incredibly difficult to pull off a multi-campus effort, but we believe it's going to be a strong force in helping women in New Orleans."

The grant money will be disbursed to each of the three campuses in an effort to achieve several goals. The first goal is to improve coordination among current programs for dealing with violence against women and to expand training for incoming students on the three campuses. The money also will be used to coordinate college programs with community programs such as shelters, which are only available off campus but to which students should have easy access.

Furthermore, university students will be hired in a number of capacities, including forming peer education groups, creating Web sites and assessing the program itself for future improvements. Funding also will be used to coordinate awareness-raising events at all three universities. But first the consortium must hire a project director to oversee the program; selection is currently under way.

According to Lewis, this two-year, full-time position should be filled by late spring. The new director will divide his or her time between the three universities, coordinating events and training. He or she will receive quarterly training by national consultants who specialize in programs dealing with preventing violence against women.

For accounting purposes, the project is structured so the grant money is routed directly to Tulane, with the other two schools set up as subcontractors, explains Lewis. The project director also will be hired directly through Tulane and will occupy office space in Tulane's School of Social Work. Lewis says the group is excited to get the project up and running because it is critical to strengthen the bonds between existing resources in New Orleans so that organizations are not working within a vacuum.

"When a woman comes to any resource because she has been raped, for example, many of these people don't know the many ways they can aid her because they don't know what's available outside their organization. There isn't a coordinated system of response to these things yet."

Lewis notes the difficulty in assessing violence against women, with more than 80 percent of incidents going unreported. "A woman may tell a friend what's happened to her, but often she doesn't even realize that it is actually date rape or stalking. This is why we need to increase awareness and education."

And even if a woman does understand it, adds Lewis, a host of factors,namely fear, shame and peer pressure,often prevent her from reporting the incident and seeking help. Named for a Tulane social work student who was murdered in 1997, "The Leanne Knot Violence Prevention Project: A University Consortium" will need volunteers. To participate, contact Lewis at (504) 862-3482 or jslewis@ mailhost.tcs.tulane.edu.

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