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UD conference examines 20-year-old Violence Against Women Act

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 University’s 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 can’t 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 possible.”

Department of Justice official addresses conference

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 Friday’s 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 UD’s 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; President’s Diversity Initiative; and the School of Public Policy and Administration.

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Activists, academics and advocates gathered at UD last week for a conference that explored issues of violence against women and encouraged continued coalition-building.

A two-day conference at the University of Delaware last week explored issues related to domestic violence and sexual assault and marked the 20-year anniversary of passage of the federal Violence Against Women Act.

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