Some MTSU students are putting their hands and feet to work to raise awareness about child abuse.
Members of the “Violence in the Family” course taught by Rebecca Oldham have signed up to volunteer, walk or both in the seventh annual Hometown Heroes Walk for Children hosted by the Murfreesboro Child Advocacy Center beginning at noon Friday, April 29.
The 2.3-mile walk will take participants from the Murfreesboro Civic Plaza just south of the courthouse square to the Child Advocacy Center on Samsonite Boulevard. An estimated 300-400 people take part each year.
Oldham, an assistant professor of child development and family studies, said her students are obligated to perform community engagement projects. Divided into groups, they plan the details, including and documenting for a grade. On the last day of the course, they deliver presentations to the entire class about what they did and how they did it.
“I like to use this course as an opportunity to mobilize students, to get them thinking beyond their day-to-day life, thinking more (at the) community level, recognizing their power to make change, to help people and to build those bridges between the university and our community partners so we can be more effective together,” Oldham said.
The students also engage in media analysis projects in which they assess messages and portrayals of violence in popular culture.
“We also talk a lot about how policies and cultural institutions either lay the foundation for those kinds of violence to occur or can be used to disrupt cycles of violence,” Oldham said.
Katie Enzor, the Murfreesboro Child Advocacy Center’s development director, said the walk is a way to recognize children’s courage in reporting abuse and to thank law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and mental health professionals themselves for their hard work and courage.
“We like to let them know how much we appreciate the work that they do on a 24/7 basis, 365 days a year,” Enzor said.
Enzor said that child abuse statistics have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Children’s Services received 5,198 child abuse referrals from January to December 2021.
“Since COVID, it has had an uptick because nobody felt like they were being heard or they didn’t have the outlets to get to where they could feel safe enough to tell their story,” Enzor said.
Oldham’s students will be helping with parking cars, registering participants, distributing T-shirts and staffing water stations. Enzor said she expects another strong turnout this year.
Child abuse resources include the Murfreesboro Child Advocacy Center at www.cacrutherford.org, the Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse Center at www.dvsacenter.org, and the Tennessee Child Abuse Hotline at 1-877-237-0004 or https://apps.tn.gov/carat/.
For more information about the Hometown Heroes Walk, contact Enzor at firstname.lastname@example.org or Oldham at email@example.com.
— Gina K. Logue (firstname.lastname@example.org)