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JCSU's fight to end dating violence

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Dating violence is a major issue on college campuses. According to the Dating Violence Resource Center, 32 percent of students report dating violence by a previous partner, and 21 percent report violence by a current partner. Dating violence is defined as controlling, abusive and aggressive behavior that occurs in a romantic relationship. It happens in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and can include verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or a combination of these factors.

Safespace.org reports that 60 percent of acquaintance rapes on college campuses occur in casual or steady dating relationships. More than 13 percent of college women indicated they had been stalked and 42 percent of those stalked were victimized by a boyfriend or ex-boyfriend. One in four female students experiences sexual assault over the course of a college career. Approximately 90 percent of victims of sexual assault on college campuses know their attacker.

Luckily, some of the nation's universities — such as Charlotte's own Johnson C. Smith University — are doing something about the problem. You may have recently read that JCSU received a grant from the U.S. Justice Department for $300,000 to combat dating violence. This is true — but JCSU has been fighting against domestic violence before being awarded this particular grant. In fact, they received a similar grant from the Justice Department in 2005 in the same amount to create awareness about dating violence on campus.

According to Dr. Dezette Johnson, assistant professor of social work at JCSU, "We saw an increase in dating violence on campus and recognized that there was a real need for awareness and prevention. We wanted to come up with some intervention measures to prevent dating violence on campus and within the larger community."

Therefore, JCSU formed the JCSU Coalition to combat dating violence. The JCSU coalition consists of campus police, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, the athletic department, the Counseling and Testing Center and other groups.

Initially, the coalition held monthly meetings to discuss issues related to dating violence on campus and to revise campus policies. Out of these early meetings and the initial grant, they revised judicial board policies and ways to report domestic violence. JCSU also used the money to install some safety features — like blue lights and intercom systems — on campus; if a student, male or female, feels threatened, he or she can touch the blue light and the police will respond immediately. That said, just when it seemed the initiatives were going strong, the funding ended in 2008.

"We were just getting to the point where you could see the work that we were doing was making a difference and the grant ran out," says Johnson. "We re-applied and were rejected. It was too important to let go, so we applied again with a stronger focus on prevention — and here we are."

This second grant will allow the school to implement a Dating Violence 101 course, which will be mandatory for all first-year students. The university will also offer a course on domestic violence, which will be open to any major on campus.

Dating violence awareness and training workshops will be held for sororities, fraternities and members of the athletic programs. JCSU will also develop a website that will feature a virtual classroom with different modules related to dating violence, which anyone with access to the Web can use. Perhaps the largest component of the grant will be a domestic violence resource library on campus. The library will house all types of resources on dating violence, sexual abuse, sexual assault and stalking. The workshops and training will be extended to the nearby Biddleville community, in an effort to create a holistic approach to solving the problem.

College is the perfect time to reach young adults because this is where students are creating their own identities, separate from their parents, and engaging in romantic relationships on their own terms, often for the first time. They are learning what is acceptable and unacceptable in relationships as they grow into adulthood. When colleges and universities don't have the resources in place to help students with these decisions or who may be involved in a dating violence situation, then the college experience can become one of victimization. And no one sends his or her child to college with that expectation.

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