Ending Violence Against Women at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Generating a Movement

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

Amelia Cobb

Last Thursday, I was honored to have been recognized by the White House as Champion of Change for my work with The Wright Group (TWG) in launching Ending Violence Against Women (EVAW): The HBCU Project--an initiative developed to assist Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) expand their institutional capacity and action plans to ending violence against women.  

I willingly admit that this work is more challenging than any project I have undertaken, however it is also more rewarding and fulfilling than I could have ever imagined. For me this work is not just what I do every day as a professional but this is a personal commitment.  Because of my dedicated energy on this issue many people often ask me why am I so passionate about ending violence against women---as they often suspect that I myself am a survivor.  However, to their surprise I am not---I am proud bystander.   As a teenager, college student, friend and family member I have been in arms reach of resilient women and young girls who are survivors and as a bystander I do this work because ‘this is the change I want the next generation to see in the world’.

Young women 16-24 are the largest group that experience gender-based violence in United States.  Violence in general and gender-based violence (GBV) impacts the health and overall wellness of women throughout their lifespan. GBV increases their risk of long-term health consequences such as reproductive health, risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV/AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  One in four women will be impacted by domestic violence throughout their lifetime and one in five women will be sexually assaulted during their college years. Despite the progress made and extensive research published on violence against women, gaps in the research continues to exist on how to address ending violence against women at Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) and HBCUs at-large. Strategies to address the health needs of survivors and ending violence against women on college campuses are not one-size fits all; to be effective they must be not only ‘culturally competent’ but also be ‘socially competent’ to reach youth and young adults by Healthy People 2020. 

According to research, 23 percent of college students think that women who are abused want to be treated that way.  By working alongside student leaders, organizations and dedicated staff on HBCU campuses, TWG has been able to help HBCUs take the lead on changing attitudes on bystander interventions within a campus community setting.  Violence against women is the business of TWG and our model is simple: we focus on grassroots Student Engagement to foster Student Advocacy which in turn brings about Institutional Change.  We meet students where they are in their young adult lives and allow them to educate us on how their sense of self is connected to their own definitions of culture, gender, intimate relationships, sexual preferences, friendships and the meaning of family.  We’ve seen a growing movement for EVAW at HBCUs since our early days in 2007.   Today, we are proud to reach over 5,500 HBCU students annually through our programs, trainings or special events.  In addition we have begun to see an increase in the engagement of black men interested in serving as leaders to ending violence against women on their HBCU campuses.

Violence against women impacts everyone.  Just because it has not affected you personally in your own intimate relationships, it definitely is affecting someone that you know. You don’t have to be a survivor to join the fight to end violence against women.  You just have to be present to stand by the side of those survivors who need support. Together bystanders, advocates and survivors can end violence against women.  When we end violence we can change lives and the health outcomes of young women and men for generations to come.

Violence against women impacts everyone.  Just because it has not affected you personally in your own intimate relationships, it definitely is affecting someone that you know. You don’t have to be a survivor to join the fight to end violence against women.  You just have to be present to stand by the side of those survivors who need support. Together bystanders, advocates and survivors can end violence against women.  When we end violence we can change lives and the health outcomes of young women and men for generations to come.

Amelia Cobb is Founder and President of The Wright Group (TWG).

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