Campus News

October 24, 2011

Emory tackles violence against women with a new undergraduate course

Emory Tackles Violence against Women with a New Undergraduate Course
Ulester Douglas, the associate director of Men Stopping Violence, with Dona Yarbrough, Emory's Center for Women director.

Though an abundantly skilled clinician with much to say on the subject of stopping men's violence against women, Ulester Douglas, the associate director of Men Stopping Violence (MSV)—an Atlanta-based nonprofit—can boil it down.

By Susan M. Carini

Here is the short version for why intimate partner violence occurs with alarming frequency around the world and here at home, with the state of Georgia being ranked tenth in the country for this form of abuse.

Men abuse women because they can, because it works, and because it is a learned way of being in the world.

Mastering this shorthand is just one of many ways that Douglas has become a respected national authority on this issue. It is thus with considerable excitement and hope for a better future between men and women that Emory welcomes Douglas to Emory for a unique collaboration.

Douglas will lead a seminar called "Men Stopping Violence: Male Intimate Partner Violence against Women" in spring 2012. During the 2012-2013 academic year, he plans to add an optional second-semester practicum to the course so that students, in conjunction with university partners, can use what they've learned in the seminar to affect change on Emory's campus. The primary home for the course will be the Institute for Liberal Arts, and the course will be cross-listed in African American Studies and Women's Studies.

The genesis for the partnership came when Rudolph Byrd—professor of African American Studies and director of Emory's James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference—won an award in 2009 named for one of MSV's founders. Afterward, Byrd—who witnessed violence between his own parents and had the courage to intervene—asked how he could show his "continued support and appreciation for all that Men Stopping Violence does." It is just one of the enduring legacies of Byrd, who lost his fight with cancer on Oct. 21. (For more on his contributions to Emory overall, see the letter from Provost Earl Lewis.)

He did so by forging a relationship between Emory and MSV and enlisting the Center for Women at Emory (CWE) as a key partner in the initiative. According to CWE Director Dona Yarbrough, "MSV is the best example I've encountered of men working with men to end violence against women. It has truly been a pleasure to work with Ulester and the rest of the organization."  In late August, the Center for Women was awarded a $10,000 OUCP Community-Engaged Learning Initiative grant to support the Emory-MSV Initiative.  The spring course is the result of over a year of planning and preparation among Emory and MSV partners.

This past February, the CWE hosted an event to build interest in the course, and Yarbrough described her appreciation for the many men—including fraternity members and athletes—who showed up, many of them because faculty and staff members had encouraged them to do so.  A database is quickly reaching critical mass with the names of potential students. Though the hope is that male students will predominate, the course is open to all undergraduates.

Those who sign up will encounter an extraordinary teacher. Douglas, who earned an MSW from the University of Michigan, went on to a National Institute of Mental Health Fellowship, working with families who had experienced incest. He describes that as "an intensive experience, my first direct one with family violence." To complete that fellowship, he spent two years at a YWCA in Grand Rapids that had units for survivors of intimate partner violence and abusers. When the person in charge of the latter died, Douglas filled his shoes, then later came to Atlanta in 1994.

As a student at Michigan, where activism is prevalent, he lobbied for the university's divestiture from South Africa and learned "so much about issues of race, class, and patriarchy." At MSV, he has the satisfaction of seeing the theory of his student days and the practice of his clinical days come together. And make no mistake: Douglas looks this issue squarely in the eye and expects his students to do so as well.

He has points of difference, he admits, with agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In so many organizations, Douglas says, "there is obfuscation about agency; they won't name who is doing what to whom. MSV does, and that initially creates discomfort." Students who sign up for the course should not be startled if Douglas walks into the room on day one and says, "Every man in this room is implicated." It is what he believes, and it relates to the theory of patriarchy that his group is dedicated to dismantling.

Classes will include role playing, a modicum of lecture, hypotheticals—in all, promises Douglas, "it will be wonderfully mixed." The importance of teasing out hard truths notwithstanding, Douglas promises to go slow, noting that—in a class with men and women—"initially there will be a lot of checking out each other, positioning, and jockeying, which includes power moves." After a while, his hope is "that we be ourselves and be more authentic in terms of the way we think and feel about the issues at hand. It is not," he emphasizes, "an intellectual exercise alone; it will have emotion. These are real women's lives and a serious issue."

So, how will Emory's students effect change? For those who go on to do the second-semester practicum, they will be working on projects in collaboration with relevant offices at Emory, particularly in Campus Life.

Douglas boils the course outcomes down to this: "After students have taken this course, they will be personally moved and have an appreciation for the urgency of the matter. It will take them from curiosity to some degree of advocacy and activism." To that, Yarbrough adds: "The Center for Women wants to make that connection between theory and practice. How does what we do in the ivory tower have a real-world impact? This course will provide students with the skills to critically examine privilege and patriarchy so that they can question the traditions and received wisdom that are so often taken for granted."

Susan M. Carini 04G—the executive director of Emory Creative Group—is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Women's News and Narratives; a member of Emory's Intimate Partner Violence Working Group, which is dedicated to supporting faculty and staff who experience intimate partner violence; and a member of the board of directors of Partnership against Domestic Violence.

This story was originally published in the Fall 2011 issue of Women's News & Narratives Magazine.

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