EKU-SAFE Raising Awareness of Violence, Assisting Survivors

Photo of EKU-SAFE facility

An initiative at Eastern Kentucky University to raise awareness of many forms of violence that can affect the campus community and assist survivors now has a tangible presence with the opening of EKU-SAFE.

President Doug Whitlock was among the campus officials on hand Tuesday, Aug. 17 for a ribbon-cutting marking the opening of a new facility in Room 126 of the Keith Building.

Professor Caroline Reid, principal investigator for the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Violence against Women grant that funded the EKU-SAFE initiative, said the new center is “designed to be a warm, inviting healing space for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, cyberstalking and rape and for people who just want to have a dialogue.”

EKU-SAFE reflects the University’s desire to create a “culturally appropriate, coordinated response,” Reid added. “It’s a very creative and different way to approach the issue of violence.”

In 2009, EKU received the $300,000 federal grant to fund ESCAPES, Empowering Students on Campus through Advocacy, Prevention, Education and Services, a collaborative effort involving EKU and several local non-profit agencies.

“Our goal with the center is to provide a central point of contact on campus where survivors can get information, referrals and support on campus,” Reid said. “While many campus offices and organizations deal with issues of violence against women, no one program has been exclusively responsible for education, services, policy or coordination of victims’ services among on-and off-campus resources. The establishment of EKU-SAFE on campus will centralize efforts in the areas of education and prevention and provide enhanced communication regarding the provision of services and resources to victims.”

As project coordinator, Courtney Brooks will likely be the first friendly face visitors to the center encounter. Brooks, who holds degrees from Berea College and East Tennessee State University and is currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Kentucky, has worked extensively on college campuses, providing direct services and advocacy to survivors of violence, as well as creating learning opportunities for campus communities through curricular development, arts activism, male leadership initiatives, awareness campaigns, creative performances and “bystander” accountability learning modules. She’ll be doing much the same at EKU, in collaboration with the Violence Prevention Coalition and other campus and community partners.

“EKU-SAFE is here not only as a space for training and advocacy, but also as a safe place where we can set in motion the unlearning process to confront ways we have been socialized to consider violence, and instead recognize it as a form of power and control,” Brooks said. “There are members in our campus community who have already taken steps to challenge these ideas, and EKU-SAFE is here to strengthen that conversation in transformative and imaginative ways that will blend activism and classroom learning.”

Brooks said the grant was written with the demographics of EKU’s student population in mind.

“While our approach to training and education will be research-based, the context in which we consider our programs will be specific to the diversity represented at EKU,” she explained. “Our responsibility is to explore how students share in dialogue with one another, discuss cultural factors that contribute to gender roles and identity, and find pathways that connect students to the importance of personal and collective responsibility for each other’s safety.”

Marta Miranda, director of EKU’s Women and Gender Studies Program, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Social Work and a licensed clinical social worker, was a co-investigator for the grant.

“We are designing a research-based culturally competent program that will be individualized to the EKU student population based on qualitative and quantitative data,” Miranda said. “The center will be used for educational, creative and activist activities to assist survivors and the campus community in creating a campus culture that actively engages in the prevention of violence and takes ownership for each other’s welfare. First-year students, international students and LGBTQ students are most at risk on any college campus for violence, and … we are taking a proactive approach by creating training, presentations, programs, workshops, plays, poetry slams, games, activists and service opportunities that will increase awareness and provide opportunities for difficult dialogues.

“I hope to see every single person at EKU take ownership of making our campus safer, and be willing to identify himself or herself as ‘I am EKU SAFE,’” she added. “We want to put EKU on the national map as a campus that takes responsibility to prevent and reduce violence.”

The center, which is housed in EKU’s Women and Gender Studies Program, is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Published on August 18, 2010