Steans Center > About > News > Take Back the Halls: Violence Prevention Class Links DePaul, High School

Take Back the Halls: Violence Prevention Class Links DePaul, High School



In their DePaul class, students address topics related to teen violence; once a week they also go to high schools served by the programs where they work directly with high school students impacted by the problem. DePaul students in the class also participate in a planning session once a week to prepare for their work at the high schools. Undergraduate interns plan activities for high school students around a specific topic related to power, gender, media or other issues. The class is now in its fourth year and has engaged approximately 50 DePaul students with about 180 high school student participants. For high school students, the project does not just focus on raising awareness about teen violence – it encourages students to become activists on the issue. Beth Catlett, who teaches the Teen Violence Prevention class, explains that the class and program complement each other. “In the seminar, we critically examine scholarship in the field on feminist and liberatory teaching pedagogies, adolescent development and urban youth,” says Catlett, who is Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Studies for the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. “We engage with that scholarship, and examine ways it can be useful for us when working with high school students. Meanwhile, we use our field experience in the high schools to inform what we are learning in the classes. It’s a synergistic process.” For DePaul students, that can mean studying educator Paulo Friere’s classic book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” one day – and listening as a high school student shares how dating violence has impacted her, her family and the larger community the next day. Heather Flett, who teaches the class with Catlett, says Take Back the Halls challenges DePaul students to grow through the program. 


“We try to challenge DePaul students to form relationships with high school students, appreciate the differences and similarities,” says Flett, a social worker who is also the director of Take Back Our Lives. “DePaul students try to make the theories they learn in a classroom relatable to an inner-city kid. The goal is to encourage high school students to be the experts on this issue – they are the ones who will get the message about violence prevention out to people their age.” Students as Service-Learners DePaul junior and Women’s and Gender Studies major Emily Baas works with North Lawndale College Prep (NLCP) students through the program. “A lot of students in the high school have experienced dating violence, or know someone who has,” she says. “They are very aware that there is a problem. Take Back the Halls is a way for them to vent these feelings and creatively express what they are thinking. So many times, kids are silenced by the greater Chicago community.” “This program,” adds Baas, who grew up in Valparaiso, Indiana, “has given me a look into a different community I probably would have not had the opportunity to go into. Even traveling to North Lawndale has shown me how segregated the city can be. I also think it has changed the way I look at high school students -- now I see, more than before, that their voice is as important as my voice. Meanwhile, this program has helped me put the theories we learn in class into practice.” Fatima Arain, who graduated from DePaul last spring with a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies, worked as an advisor for Take Back the Halls last year at Clemente High School. “In terms of my activism,” she says, “I really blossomed in my last year at DePaul, and that had a lot to do with Take Back the Halls. I remember we would be driving back to Lincoln Park from the high school,” she says, “and we would be in great moods. The students at Clemente were so smart and so inspiring. They learn that where they are coming from is important and needs to be heard. The experience they’ve lived is a form of knowledge.” Meanwhile, Katrina Wyss, a research assistant for the program who works with all three schools, says that high school students in “Take Back the Halls” respect DePaul students involved in the program – students who, in many cases, are only a few years removed from high school themselves. “High school students can see themselves in DePaul interns. I think they are more likely to take what interns say to heart than if they were talking to older adults,” says Wyss, who is pursuing a master’s in nonprofit management through DePaul’s Public Service Management Program and collects data from students for Take Back the Halls. Partners Service learning courses offered through the Steans Center are typically characterized by strong partnerships between the university and a community-based organization; in this case, that organization is a neighborhood school. Jill Bass, a teacher at NLCP who is a liaison for Take Back the Halls at the school, simply says the program works well and fits “so smoothly” at NLCP. “Most of the students at our school have been in this program for two years,” says Bass, who is the school’s Civic Engagement Program Director. “Take Back the Halls connects students to something that gives them a purpose.” That’s certainly true for Candice Williams. “I specifically relate to issues raised by Take Back the Halls,” says Williams, a sophomore at NLCP. “I don’t think teens talk about teen dating violence a lot, but I know it happens.” Williams, in fact, related a story about someone she knows who was a victim of teen dating violence “two weeks before prom.” Williams adds that because there are three boys in the class, “We get both sides of the story about teen dating violence.” Two of those boys, seniors Jonathan Hardnett and Derrick Webb, both say the program is having an impact on them. “The first step is talking about violence, letting your feelings out,” says Webb. “After talking about it you realize you are not the only one dealing with the problem.” “It’s something worth talking about,” adds Hardnett. “Violence is in the school, in the street, in the home – you can’t get away from it. Some people need a place of commonality to talk about their experience. This program brings you closer and closer because we see we have a voice to talk about our experiences.” Students like Hardnett and Webb are also using their voices to promote social change. Last year, they joined many students in the program in a Take Back the Night march. This year at NLCP, students are planning a poetry jam that features poetry, rap and the presentation of student videos on themes related to teen dating violence. Like many in the violence prevention movement, one of the common links for DePaul students interning at high schools and the students they work with is a word that keeps reemerging: transformation. “So many DePaul students say to me this class and program has transformed then,” Catlett says. “There is a real sense of excitement about learning outside of the classroom, walking out of the ivory tower. They see in a very concrete way how real concerns about sexism, classism, homophobia, racism and other issues impact kids. At the same time, they gain a new appreciation for the challenges and potential of youth.” ​