Wilder School students stage "Silent Witness" exhibit in Cabell to focus on domestic violence

October 12, 2015

To help bring visibility and awareness to the issue of domestic violence–a crime that constituted nearly 36 percent of all Virginia homicides in 2013 and affects an estimated 12 million Americans annually–students from one class are collaborating with VCU Libraries and the Wellness Resource Center to present a traveling memorial.

“Silent Witness” honors the lives of Virginians killed as a result of domestic violence. The exhibition, which is on display Oct. 12-16 at the James Branch Cabell Library, was organized by students in “CRJS 352: Crime and Delinquency Prevention.” An intensely experiential service learning course, CRJS 352 is taught by Wilder School Assistant Professor Amy Cook, Ph.D. 

For the past seven weeks, five students in Cook’s class have been working to develop a campus-based prevention program aimed at reducing intimate partner violence and sexual assault through education. Plans were informed by a review of subject literature, examination of evidence based practices for advocacy as well as interactions with local service providers.

Course participants were also aided by Sexual Assault and Violence Education by Students (SAVES), a student organization that provides support to those affected by intimate partner and sexual violence through peer education, training and advocacy. SAVES is an initiative of the Wellness Resource Center.

“Silent Witness” will be accompanied by student curators who will be on-hand to answer visitor questions during designated times. The visual display represents one of a number of tactics to be employed by class members during the month of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

It’s all part of the university’s commitment to utilize faculty and student capital in addressing community needs, said Cook. It’s an approach that she described as definitive of the VCU experience as well as the key to real, impactful learning.

“There is no substitute for authentic learning experiences like these. Lectures are great. I can present my students with a host of statistics and analysis but learning through action allows my students to achieve real objectives for the community and gives them a deeper understanding of the skills needed to address a complex public health issue like domestic violence,” said Cook.

“It puts the students–not me–in charge of their education. And in the process, they tap into all of their senses. Experience enhances understanding and understanding leads to more effective action. Not to mention a better prepared professional.”

The exhibit features six life-size wooden silhouettes of Virginians–men, women and children–each painted red and bearing a golden shield with the details of the victim’s story. “Silent Witness” is currently on view on the first floor of the James Branch Cabell Library, near the main stairwell adjacent to Starbucks. 

Materials for the exhibit were provided by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. For more information, contact Amy Cook at

By Tiffany Murray-Robinson, Wilder School public relations coordinator

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