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Writer and activist Eesha Pandit speaks to the audience at the conference, urging those who represent diverse groups to work together in building coalitions.
Activists, academics and advocates
gathered at the University of Delaware last week for a two-day
conference that explored issues of violence against women and encouraged
strength in numbers through continued coalition-building.
The conference, Powerful Partnerships: 20 Years of the Violence
Against Women Act and the Path Ahead, marked the passage of that
federal legislation two decades ago, as well as two other anniversaries.
The Universitys Department of Women and Gender Studies is celebrating its 40th year, while the statewide Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence is marking its 20th anniversary.
On Friday, April 25, the closing day of the conference, Eesha Pandit,
a writer, activist and consultant based in Houston, Texas, delivered a
call to action, urging members of the audience to continue working
together and recognizing their shared goals, even while realizing that
different groups face different issues.
For example, Pandit said, women who are immigrants often face unique
problems, from language and cultural barriers to fear of deportation, in
seeking protection from violence, and low-income survivors need much
more help in finding housing, child care and other social services than
more affluent women usually do.
Social justice is like a cake, she said, with many different groups
and issues going into the mix. And the result is not a layer cake,
where each group remains separate, but a combination of ingredients.
We cant ignore our identity differences, Pandit said. We have to
look at the multiple factors that shape our lives. Race, gender,
sexuality, citizenship status, poverty, unemployment, disability they
all shape our experiences and they can limit access to resources for
survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
We all live with different realities, she said, calling on the
audience members to acknowledge those differences while building
coalitions among all groups. This is how we win with as many of us as
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Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant U.S. attorney general, tells the conference that the Department of Justice views sexual violence on campuses as a civil rights issue.
Also speaking at Fridays session was Jocelyn Samuels, acting
assistant attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice, where
she heads the Civil Rights Division.
Samuels noted that in the coming weeks, Department of Justice and
Department of Education officials will be visiting colleges and
universities to raise awareness about campus sexual assault and to learn
what schools are doing to address this national problem and to train
students how to prevent and report such assaults.
Campus sexual assault is a civil rights issue, she said. Sexual
assault denies students their right to live and learn in a safe
educational environment, and it is a form of sex discrimination that is
disproportionately perpetrated against women.
Samuels also met on Friday with UD students and staff who are working
with programs to prevent violence. The programs are supported by a
three-year grant, Innovative Partnerships to Reduce Gender-Based
Violence on Delaware Campuses, which the U.S. Department of Justice
awarded in 2011 to UD and Delaware State University.
About the Violence Against Women Act
The Violence Against Women Act, legislation that was introduced by
then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a UD alumnus in the Class of 1965, was
passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2013. It provides for a variety of
services for both male and female victims of sexual assault and domestic
violence, including community prevention programs; rape crisis centers,
hot lines and other assistance services; legal aid for survivors of
domestic violence; and programs targeted to the needs of such specific
groups as immigrants and people with disabilities.
About the conference
The Powerful Partnerships conference was hosted and sponsored by
the Department of Women and Gender Studies and the Delaware Coalition
Against Domestic Violence and also was sponsored by Verizon and UDs
College of Arts and Sciences.
Additional support came from these units at the University: the
centers for Black Culture and for Political Communication; departments
of Anthropology, Black American Studies, Communication, English, Foreign
Languages and Literatures, Political Science and International
Relations, and Sociology and Criminal Justice; the Office of Equity and
Inclusion; Presidents Diversity Initiative; and the School of Public
Policy and Administration.