Content warning: This article contains mention of domestic violence.
The University’s Violence Prevention and Advocacy Services is partnering with various Chapel Hill and Carrboro community members to share resources to raise awareness for Relationship Violence Awareness Month.
This October, 16 participating establishments in the area will be giving out goodie bags full of resources and treats to spread knowledge and facilitate conversation.
Sloan Thompson, one of the UNC Violence Prevention Coordinators, said the idea for the initiative came from her prior job at the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, where she was looking for ways to distribute resources during RVAM but had to work around limitations imposed because of COVID-19.
When she proposed the initiative at VPAS and started reaching out to local businesses, she was overwhelmed by the amount of support. They even had to set a cutoff limit of 3,000 bags.
“I've been really excited to see how enthusiastic the staff and the owners have been at these restaurants,” Thompson said. “And so it's something that I was very proud to do back in D.C. but has grown so much because of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community.
This initiative is part of many others that VPAS uses to cultivate a safer community on and off campus.
WGST 340: Leadership in Violence Prevention for Peer Educators, is a UNC course taught by Shelley Gist Kennedy, the University's other violence prevention coordinator. It is an experiential education class that involves students in much of the VPAS programming, including the goodie bag giveaway initiative.
Rucha Kapshikar, a sophomore studying health policy and management, is a student in the course. She said it has shifted the way she understands relationship violence, and she thinks everyone should know what she’s been taught.
“I feel like so many people don't understand the scope of it. And that's why we need awareness,” Kapshikar said. “It's just like there's one definition of it, which is a woman and a man, the man hits the woman. There's so many other ways that it can happen, and the fact that people don't know about this is just like a disservice to everyone.”
Awareness goes further than just giving resources to survivors, both Kapshikar and Thompson agreed. VPAS encourages community violence prevention, which takes the responsibility and blame off of the survivors alone and teaches community members how to interfere effectively.
“Like a grassroots-level approach,” Kapshikar said. “We're having all these things where we can help people who have been abused, but how are we going to stop it from happening in the first place? And that's kind of what community violence prevention talks about.”
VPAS has a variety of programming connected to this approach to violence prevention. In an email statement, Samantha Luu, the director of the Chapel Hill Campus and Community Coalition elaborated on these programs and their potential impact.
“The negative impacts of high-risk alcohol use are far-reaching in our community and include relationship and interpersonal violence,” she said in the email. “I look forward to the awareness that these efforts will raise, and I’m especially pleased to see broad business participation, inclusive of participation in Relationship Awareness Month, the VPAS Goodie Bag Giveaway and year-round engagement in Be a Responsible Seller & Raise the Bar trainings."
Thompson said the goodie bag program is meant to start conversations in various spaces.
“With this initiative, we did reach out to bars because I think that's a very, very important space to have that conversation,” Thompson said. “But also we wanted to reach out to coffee shops and restaurants as well because we didn't just want to focus on students who are part of drinking culture, we want it to get to students who have very different types of lives and very different types of social lives at UNC.”
For more information on relationship violence prevention and the resources provided through the University and throughout the local community, see the VPAS resource guide.
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