“The URI Women’s Center’s violence prevention program is groundbreaking,” said URI Chief Diversity Officer Kathryn Friedman. She highlighted the rigorous peer advocate application process and the education and support that students receive while participating in the program. “This model attracts and retains excellent students and is a model that anti-violence program advocates have been lobbying for at institutions across the nation for years.”
Sylvia Ellis, a professor at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, said that when the need for a conference about violence against women was identified, along with the need for women’s centers on British campuses, she recommended that the URI Women’s Center be involved.
“The invitation is part of a growing recognition that the URI Women’s Center is becoming known as one of the best and most comprehensive centers not only in the country but in the world,“ said URI Women’s Center Executive Director Carolyn Sovet.
One thing that sets the Women’s Center apart from others is that half of the people involved with it are men, according to Women’s Center Coordinator Keith Labelle. He spoke at the conference with recent graduate and former basketball star Ben Eaves, Sovet, and Violence Prevention and Advocacy Services Director Jennifer Longa Moio.
“From the quarterback of the football team to fraternity presidents, participation in the Women’s Center involves many men you would not ordinarily expect to find. The truth is it doesn’t happen in many places in this country,” Labelle said. “But we believe very strongly in men and women working together to solve this problem. It doesn’t just take women to end violence against women.”
A long-standing debate exists in the violence prevention field concerning the role of men. Some people believe men do not have a place in the movement or fear they will take over the struggle from women who have long been fighting to prevent relationship violence, Friedman said. There is also a belief that men should work in male-only groups to prevent violence.
“URI has circumvented these fears, building its program around the powerful partnership women and men create when working together,” Friedman said. “The recruitment, training, and retention of male peer advocates at URI create important in-roads in fraternities and athletics, areas which statistically have high rates of violence against women.”
Labelle and Longa Moio speak to an array of audiences around the country about preventing violence against women including National Football League rookies, freshmen at many universities, and police recruits.
During the past 30 years, Sovet has sheparded the Women’s Center from when it was a small program to what it has become – an integral part of the campus community. Located prominently on Upper College Road, the Women’s Center offers a popular peer advocate program, crisis intervention and victim support, education and training programs, mentoring, housing for women students interested in self government, and more. Sovet’s goal was for the Center to be immersed in campus life so when a student, staff, or faculty member needs help or guidance helping someone else, there is no question about where to go.
“We wanted to do something big,” said Sovet, who still remembers explaining what consent meant in the early 1990s and trying to stop people from blaming the victim. “It’s been a lot of hard work over a long period of time but we are making a difference.”
The Women’s Center has been honored twice with the URI A. Robert Rainville Team Leadership Award and nationally with the Violence Goes to College award for outstanding student programming in campus violence prevention.
Northumbria University’s Sylvia Ellis, who is a former graduate assistant of Sovet’s, said she was delighted that representatives from the URI Women’s Center were at the conference. “As a former URI student and graduate assistant in the Center, I’ve long been impressed with its vital contribution to campus life. I believe the experience of its staff and its programming expertise, especially on violence against women, will be of keen interest to academics, students, and feminist activists in Britain.”
URI Women’s Center Executive Director Carolyn Sovet (left) and Keith Labelle, coordinator of Violence Prevention and Advocacy Services, speak about violence against women and empowering students at Northumbria University’s Feminist Activism on Campus event in the United Kingdome in June. Photo courtesy of Keith Labelle.