Campus News

A holistic approach to preventing violence

As the University’s senior prevention strategy officer, Christi Hurt believes that violence prevention is an issue that should involve everybody.

Christi Hurt became the University’s first senior prevention strategy officer in July.
Christi Hurt became the University’s first senior prevention strategy officer in July.

When she was at Carolina the first time, especially in her roles as Carolina Women’s Center director and Title IX coordinator, Christi Hurt often looked at campus violence through a gender-based lens.

But returning to the University in July after two years as a national consultant — amid a pandemic and in the wake of a new focus on institutional racism and its impacts — she is taking a broader perspective.

“Violence prevention is an issue that everybody needs to be involved in because it’s about culture change. Violence doesn’t happen out of thin air. It happens because we’ve created the community conditions where somebody decides it’s OK to harm somebody else without consequences,” said Hurt, hired in July as the University’s first senior prevention strategy officer. “When you do violence prevention work, you have to do it on a lot of different levels — institutionally, organizationally, individually — to do it holistically.”

That’s because relationship violence and hate crimes share similar root causes, she said. “We’re following the data. We know that our LGBTQ students and students of color are more likely to be harmed by interpersonal violence. What’s really great about the coordination opportunity here is that we can go upstream to look at those root causes. A lot of this work can be tackled together, and we can do that with our partners in the diversity and inclusion space or the LGBTQ center.”

Hurt’s position is a new one in Student Affairs senior leadership that will also oversee the Student Wellness department as part of that holistic approach. She will lead the development of a cross-campus violence prevention strategy, programming and a long-term funding model. In developing strategies that work, she will seek out voices of students, staff and faculty, especially from the BIPOC and LGBTQ community. Hurt, who just completed her doctorate in public health leadership from the Gillings School of Global Public Health, also plans to incorporate relevant research.

How is this position different from how the University has handled violence prevention in the past?

The position hasn’t existed before, but it doesn’t mean the good work hasn’t been happening. There have been coordinators working in the trenches, doing the good prevention programming, but nobody has been positioned at a level inside Student Affairs or the University overall to really make the connections both between research and practice or across different schools and to advocate for resources, for positional authority, for change — whatever it needs to be.

We are also creating the inaugural Interpersonal Violence Prevention Collaborative to make sure that research and practice are well-linked. So we bring all of the bright minds that are working on violence prevention and a variety of capacities across the institution together to figure out what works here and to inform best practice, hopefully nationally, as we get rolling.

In a message last month, you listed as priorities the filling of two violence prevention coordinator positions and implementing hot spot mapping. What is hot spot mapping?

Hot spot mapping is a way of looking at the whole environment and working with students, faculty and staff to identify where they feel more and less safe for a variety of reasons. You can do everything from look at places where people feel physically safe or not safe based on things like lighting or landscaping or pathways, but it can also be about psychological safety. So where do people feel safe because other people aren’t catcalling them or aren’t using derogatory terms? You get folks to talk to you about their experiences across campus using a physical map. We learn things about people’s lived experiences here that can tell us how we can do better prevention work and culture change overall. It gets us from that individual level of operations where we change people’s behavior to how the campus can create a culture of safety across the entire institution.

What else is on your to-do list?

I would like to create some kind of dashboard, a visible web presence, where you can really see progress. We have the Safe at UNC website, which is great, but it doesn’t always give you a real-time sense of what’s happening and where we are growing and adapting.

We also want to have a student advisory group in the epicenter of the gender-based violence advisory group as it exists. I want the students to lead and tell us what they want to address and what the challenges are in their populations, knowing that it’s not one size fits all.

I also want to reignite our bystander intervention programming. I want to do a temperature check with the current students to see if it still meets their needs or if we need to take a different approach.

What’s your long-term plan for funding?

If we really want to build out an Interpersonal Violence Prevention Collaborative, we are going to need a lot more resources than we currently have access to. And that would include more prevention and more response staff, too. So I’d like to see a team of 10 people overall. I’m also very aware that we need to raise some private dollars, and I’d love to seek an endowment. The Gender Violence Advisory Group suggested in their recommendations that we identify a way to have a named center, if somebody would be willing to contribute at that level to support this work.