TTU News

Project AWAKEN interpersonal violence program to launch

story thumb
Reviewing plans for Project AWAKEN at Tennessee Tech are, from left, Melinda Swafford, interim director of the Tech Women's Center; Diana Lalani, administrative associate in the Tech Women's Center, Patricia Smith, director of the Tech Counseling Center; Ann Hellman, associate professor of nursing at Tech and Leigh Ann Ray, director of Tennessee Tech Health Services.

A project focused on interpersonal violence prevention and education at Tennessee Tech has garnered support from the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women.

Project AWAKEN, an initiative of faculty and staff at the university, has been awarded $300,000 in grant funds from the Department of Justice to create a cutting-edge program to address sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking education and prevention. It was one of only 53 similar project proposals funded.

“When parents send their students to college, it makes sense for them to ask, ‘How are you going to make sure my child is safe?’ Project AWAKEN is part of the answer to that,” explained Ann Hellman, associate professor in Tech’s Whitson-Hester School of Nursing.

Project AWAKEN grew from an interest in the campus community to make Tech as safe as possible for students and to ensure that when students do experience interpersonal violence, resources are available to them. With a passion for student services, a team of university faculty and staff including those from the School of Nursing, health services, the counseling center, the women’s center, and campus police spent a year pulling together the details of Project AWAKEN.

“Our goal is to increase awareness of these issues, promote advocacy for those affected, increase knowledge of the problem in our communities, empower survivors, and build an environment for nurturing that is focused on survivors, and those who serve and care for this population,” Hellman said.

With the grant funding, a project coordinator will be hired to oversee the implementation of mandatory prevention and education program for all incoming students, training for campus law enforcement and members of campus disciplinary boards, and an ongoing prevention program and bystander intervention program for the entire campus community. 

The project team also has plans to work with Tennessee Tech’s iCube to develop a virtual reality simulation addressing sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

An important part of the project, organizers say, is to implement social norming practices that make victims of interpersonal violence comfortable coming forward to report instances and take advantage of the victim services available to them. If the program works, Hellman said it is likely that the reported number of such instances at Tech will increase. However, that won’t be because it is happening more, but because victims are empowered to report abuse and seek help.

The project also has support in the community at large, with the Upper Cumberland Family Justice Center, Genesis House and the local district attorney’s office pledging their support as the grant was pursued.

The community support and Tech’s status as a hub of the 13-county Upper Cumberland Region are an asset to the program’s overall potential impact, Hellman said.

“We may be a small university, but Tech is very influential in our region,” Hellman said. “If the culture on campus around these issues changes, we could change the culture in the Upper Cumberland region.”

The grant funds will be provided over three years, but Hellman and the team who created the project are hopeful its influence will have a lasting impact.