GWS Major to Help Further Awareness, Deliver Resources to Stop Intimate Partner Violence

Whitney McWilliams '18

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a worldwide health problem whose prevalence is staggering. The American Psychological Association notes that in the United States alone:

  • More than one in three women and more than one in four men have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Seventy-four percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner (spouse, common-law spouse, ex-spouse, or boyfriend/girlfriend). Of these, 96 percent were women killed by their intimate partners.
  • One in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
  • IPV is the leading cause of female homicides and injury-related deaths during pregnancy.
  • The percentage of women who consider their mental health to be poor is almost three times higher among women with a history of violence than among those without.
  • Women with disabilities have a 40 percent greater risk of IPV, especially severe violence, than women without disabilities.

Compounding the crisis, IPV is “underreported, underrecognized, and underaddressed” by healthcare professionals, according to a 2016 article in American Family Physician.

However, one organization has been a catalyst for growing awareness of IPV and providing resources to those who experience it, particularly young people who have suffered from dating abuse and domestic violence. For the past 15 years, Day One has delivered crucial education and services to the youth of New York City. To date, the non-profit has educated more than 75,000 young people on ways to “identify and maintain healthy relationships, obtain legal protection when necessary, and assist others experiencing abuse.”

During January Short Term this year, Whitney McWilliams ’18, a gender and women’s studies (GWS) major and social justice minor who graduated in May, interned with Day One. “More than anything I think the internship showed me the bridge between theory and practice.”

McWilliams was responsible for planning and facilitating the You(th) Already Know! Conference for New York City Youth and Adult Allies. “We gathered to explore themes of healthy relationships, self-defense, self-care, and race/class/gender issues that intersect with the violence of intimate relationships,” she explains. Day One was so impressed with her work that they have invited her to return to the organization this summer.

For McWilliams, working with Day One gave her the chance to draw upon what she had learned as a GWS major.

“GWS changed my outlook on life. It made me critical and challenging. It made me aware of my suffering that in turn made me angry. With that awareness there was fire, but that fire energized me in a way that healed me from the burn-out that was essential to my journey. That energy showed me the healing potential for love and compassion. It showed me the potential for our worlds and for our sociopolitical transcendence – a movement for peace and against suffering. It also showed me my personal potential for growth and that I am the embodiment of all that I have learned.”

Another pivotal moment during McWilliams’ career at Hollins was her pioneering work in helping launch the Hollins Heritage Committee, a group of students, faculty, and staff dedicated to promoting campus-wide dialogue on issues of collective memory, diversity, and reconciliation. “The committee is tasked with bringing the popular history of Hollins to the forefront. It is to decolonize knowledge and bring to the people the truths of Hollins’ history, most specifically Hollins’ relationship to slavery and race relations on campus. Theirs is a voice that is needed for those who have been silenced by the institution.

“I will be checking in to make sure the committee moves to incorporate the voices of staff and employees as they point to class exploitation, as well as trans and non-binary voices as they speak to Hollins’ investment in gender hierarchy, and the voices of natives as Hollins occupies sacred land.”