By Holly Rider-Milkovich, Director
The most solemn duty I perform as Director of SAPAC is not included on my job description. Several times a year, I am called upon to give voice to the stories of those who did not survive, reckon our losses and acknowledge our grief. On this night, I spoke the life of Tamara Williams, a gifted senior in LS&A who hoped to become a social worker, a resident of Northwoods Apartments where she lived with her young daughter, a young woman from Detroit on the cusp of celebrating her 21st birthday. Tamara was brutally killed by her former boyfriend outside her home in September of 1997; her death was witnessed by friends and neighbors. The man who killed her was fatally wounded by a University of Michigan police officer.
As the Krause Auditorium filled with students, community members, violence prevention professionals and activists, faculty, and staff, I paused to review my speaking notes and consider again how we recognize and honor Tamara’s memory. Since 2001, U-M has annually recognized Tamara Williams’ life with the Tamara Williams memorial lecture—a keynote address to the university and Southeast Michigan community. This year’s invited speaker, Tricia Bent-Goodley, is a nationally renowned scholar on Intimate Partner violence in the African American community and a Professor of Social Work at Howard University. Dr. Bent-Goodley’s talk—“Understanding intimate Partner Violence and Why race Matters”—also coincided with the Winter 2013 theme semester on Understanding Race.
Dr. Bent-Goodley’s talk focused on the need for practitioners who are seeking to address intimate partner violence in the African American community to demonstrate cultural competency and specific knowledge of that community. As she began her talk, Bent-Goodley quickly dispatched myths about IPV in the African American community, reminding participants that while cultural and societal factors matter greatly when it comes to effectively providing care to survivors of intimate partner violence, belonging to a racial or ethnic group is not a predictor of experiencing intimate partner violence but rather a predictor in experiencing barriers to care.
As Bent-Goodley explained, some of the barriers that women of color may experience in seeking assistance for IPV include heightened stigma and shame, messages form family and friends that it is not okay to “air the dirty laundry,” or a preference for seeking informal sources for support—like family and friends—over helping professionals in mental health, health care, or criminal justice agencies. On top of these difficulties, Bent-Goodley reminded the audience that language barriers, lack of cultural competency in helping professionals or organizations, experiences of discrimination, and long histories of African Americans experiencing injustice or abuse from health care, mental health, or criminal justice professionals also add to the hurdles that African American survivors of IPV may need to overcome to reach out for help.
While African American survivors of IPV may experience many obstacles in obtaining culturally knowledgeable and skilled assistance, the Tamara Williams speaker also emphasized that it is important for care providers to understand and respect community sources of strength and resilience as well and understand their community’s challenges. As she articulated in an April 2007 essay, “As the importance of cultural and societal influences is considered, it is equally important to acquire greater understanding of those cultural strengths that can be more effectively and efficiently used to help women empower themselves and find solutions to end the violence in their lives.” Bent-Goodley’s research, her mentoring of young professionals and her other contributions to the teaching and practice of social work make more likely the possibility for intimate partner violence survivors to connect to effective, responsive, and culturally knowledgeable care.
A Black Experience-Based Approach to Gender-Based Violence. Tricia Bent-Goodley. Oxford University Press 2009. http://sw.oxfordjournals.org/content/54/3/262.short
Health Disparities and Violence Against Women: Why and How Cultural and Societal Influences Matter. Tricia Bent-Goodley. Sage Publications, 2007. http://tva.sagepub.com/content/8/2/90