Allegheny Students Partner with Women’s Services Inc. To Produce Domestic Violence Resource Book for Children

Producing a domestic violence resource book for children is a daunting project in itself. Factor in a pandemic lockdown, differing time zones, and the challenges that come with navigating the first year of college, and it seems nearly impossible.

But that’s just what a team of Global Citizen Scholars (GCS) at Allegheny College set out to accomplish. 

Working under the guidance of Professor of Media & Cultural Studies Ishita Sinha Roy and Assistant Professor of Computer Science Douglas Luman, the students published You Are Not Alone in collaboration with Women’s Services Inc. of Meadville in summer 2022. 

The students are members of GCS Cohort IV, which centered on the theme of “Empowering Women Worldwide.” Communication major and Political Science minor Katherine Perez ’23 explains that the lack of existing educational materials about domestic violence that are geared toward children drew her to the book project. 

“In the community I grew up in, domestic violence was not a topic we discussed and I didn’t even know if we had a women’s shelter,” she says. “I feel like focusing on domestic violence is a way to focus on a problem that happens worldwide, but this book is a real way to make a difference in this community of Meadville as part of the education outreach program by Women’s Services Inc.”

The team of students began work on the book during the fall 2020 semester. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, work was done remotely over Zoom, limiting in-person interaction. But Perez says that Sinha Roy worked to make sure that students “were motivated but also took care of ourselves. I don’t think this book would have happened if it wasn’t for her support.” 

Students then wrote the first draft of the book in spring 2021. Using feedback from their community partner, faculty mentor, and Teaching Assistant Nicolle Long ’22, they finalized the draft in fall 2021. 

When it came to the actual writing and illustration of the book, Economics major and French minor Rutendo Mavunga ’24 emphasizes that the team had to exercise sensitivity throughout the process.

“It was important that no race, character, or event in the book was misrepresented and that the stories illustrated the reality of domestic violence that anyone could be experiencing,” she says.

Perez adds that another huge consideration was crafting stories that could also be visually translated with appropriate illustrations. “Children relate to other children and when we recognized that, it made it hard to write stories regarding domestic violence that were about children, but I think we were able to accomplish our goal and create something that is really beautiful and important,” she says.

Illustrations required an outside collaborator — art, science, and innovation major Annaliese Stone ’23. In spring 2022, the team completed the artwork and the layout design for publishing with the help of Doug Luman. Michael Williams, Director of Community-Engaged Learning, offered support during the finishing stages, including funding from a source that wishes to remain anonymous to publish copies of the book that summer.

This Community Engaged Learning project is a growing collaboration that has brought together students and faculty across disciplines, a community partner (the Women’s Shelter Inc. in Meadville), the Allegheny College Civic Engagement Office, and now, the support of community service groups like the Meadville Rotary AM Club and the Allegheny College Rotaract Club.

With such strong teamwork, Sinha Roy says that the students now understand what it means to say, “It takes a village…”

“We’ve really learned what teamwork means, and how rich inclusion can be when you invite other people to bring their talents and resources into the project,” she says. “Handling such a sensitive and charged topic during a pandemic lockdown and in the first year of college really separated the doers from the talkers. These students have more than proved themselves, and been surprised, as well, by how much they have accomplished.”

Students from this team, alongside other volunteers, are being trained by Women’s Services this fall, so that in spring 2023, they can accompany counselors to anti-violence education workshops in middle schools and public libraries across Crawford County. The book will be part of that curriculum, and copies will be distributed at those venues.

Mavunga also plans to share the book in her home country of Zimbabwe to help support anti-violence institutions and provide them with a resource for younger patients. Perez plans to volunteer with Women’s Services Inc. and use the book in workshops with elementary children.