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BIDEN INSTITUTE BLOG Faculty Member of the Month

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Jennifer Naccarelli, Ph.D.
Jennifer Naccarelli, Ph.D.

The Biden Institute works hand in hand with members of the University of Delaware’s faculty who are working in policy areas that align with our fundamental issues. Whether it’s our policy advisors serving as guest lecturers, professors, students and department heads engaging with our special guests at the Biden Policy Dinners, or members of the faculty traveling with Vice President Biden to historic events, it is our goal to recognize members of the University of Delaware family who are doing extraordinary work.

It is in this spirit that we present our inaugural faculty member of the month.

Jennifer Naccarelli received her BA from Dickinson College, her Master’s in Theological Studies from Claremont School of Theology, and her Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University. She is currently the associate chair and an assistant professor in the Department of Women & Gender Studies at the University of Delaware.

Since 2011, she has served as the Director of UD’s Domestic Violence Prevention and Services Program. In this capacity she teaches, researches, designs curriculums and field experiences in the field of gender-based violence. Additionally, her work explores intersection of feminist theory and practice through the integration of experiential learning within undergraduate coursework.  

Throughout his career, Vice President Biden has focused on addressing domestic violence, sexual violence, teen dating violence and stalking. He was the author of the original Violence Against Women Act and he announced the appointment of the first ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women.

The Biden Institute will continue to take up this issue by engaging relevant stakeholders, championing policies that strengthen protections, and work to create cultural change. The work of Dr. Naccarelli is crucial to efforts here on campus, across the nation and around the world to prevent domestic violence.


Q: How do you think organizations on campus are doing combating the issue of domestic violence, specifically towards women? What steps can we take to improve those organizations?

A: Combatting gender-based violence, including dating violence and sexual assault, on college campuses requires the coordination of many elements of campus life.  These include a clearly defined and trauma-informed university-wide sexual misconduct policy, a Title IX office that goes beyond the minimum requirements of the law to ensure the safety of all students on this campus, a fully staffed community of advocates who support victimized students, and a compassionate and engaged faculty, staff, and student body that understands the pervasiveness of trauma and how its consequences manifest in the daily lives of our community members.  We must all continually communicate and collaborate to make sure our practices align to create a safer community for our students.

Our victim advocates within Student Wellness and Health Promotion go far beyond helping students who are victims of violence. Both the professional advocates and the student advocates within the Sexual Offense Support program lead the way in our campus based education and prevention efforts. They coordinate efforts among multiple units monitoring the student experience, the process of investigations, and ultimately working toward ending rape culture on our campus. One of the most important steps we can take to combat dating and sexual violence on our campus is to ensure that our advocates are well staffed, well funded, and recognized for their work in pushing us towards a safer and more inclusive University of Delaware community.


Q: What are the main takeaways students gain from the Domestic Violence Prevention and Service program here on campus?

A: Graduates of the DVPS program learn fast that they are well prepared to work as advocates for survivors of interpersonal and domestic violence.  They acquire confidence in their intellectual understanding of gender-based violence and its connections to the real experiences of individuals encountering daily violence in their lives. This professional confidence and the knowledge of the connections between scholarship and experience is developed through the combination of course work and its application in the field through their 300-hour summer practicum and academic year internship experiences.  During the practicum, students extend their professional relationships beyond those with their faculty, and learn from executive directors and seasoned advocates in the field.

Students preparing for graduation often are in the midst of what I label as a pre-life crisis, and our intensive field experience prior to their senior year minimizes feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.  Leading up to the practicum, students experience some degree of self-doubt.  They doubt that they will be of service to the clients who turn to them in their time of crisis.  They voice concerns about being able to successfully connect survivors to the resources that they need. They are sometimes insecure and believe that their voice as a young professional will be dismissed. They experience angst about the high risks associated with the violence facing their clients such as death, injury, homelessness, custody, financial loss, and a host of other long term and damaging outcomes of domestic violence.  They worry that they will not be able to sustain their work in an industry based on continual exposure to trauma.  However, the practicum experience, and being placed in the field as an advocate who provides direct services, teaches students through experience that they in fact do have the skills to manage these concerns.  They find themselves engaging in techniques of self-care learned in the classroom and observed in the field.  They know and utilize the resources to support their exposure to trauma and see that support is a necessity among their co-workers in the field.  Our students make meaningful contributions to their host organizations, enhancing client services and increasing operational efficiencies. They report that their comprehensive knowledge, acquired in course work, of the dynamics of violence and trauma helps them to serve survivors to the best of their ability.  Working with established advocates across the state, our students witness there are no perfect cases or clients or even outcomes, but nonetheless they have the capacity to help improve the conditions of survivors lives and connect them to the critical resources that they need.    All of these elements combine and lead to students to experience the satisfaction of a career based on social transformation.  This builds the confidence necessary to actualize their further professional and personal goals.  I am grateful to witness their journey.


Q: What are the biggest advantages of teaching domestic violence prevention in an academic environment? Disadvantages? 

A: Our DVPS program works hard to minimize the supposed academic/advocate divide.  It would be impossible to train future professionals in the field based solely an academic research or solely on advocacy practices.   Within this academic environment, we focus extensively on collaboration among academics and community partners. We all learn from one another about the ways to revise our scholarship, our curriculum, and our advocacy.

Another advantage of teaching and structuring this program in an academic context is that it enables me to develop close working relationships with my students that would not necessarily evolve in a traditional classroom setting.  This is primarily because of the prevalence of trauma in class content, in field experiences, and in daily life.  The program provides me with the opportunity to work closely with students over a long period of time.  With one another, we process experiences in the field and we discuss ways that we can transition these experiences and the energizing elements of course work into a customized career path.  Teaching and mentoring in a program about domestic violence lends itself to compassionate listening and customized supports. The students graduate with a personalized journey through a large state university, which results in deep and long term relationships with our students. 


Q: How can students support peers who are victims of domestic violence?

A: The reality is that students may not know that their peer has experienced sexual or domestic violence, or that they are in the midst of an abusive relationship.  This is why it is critically important to cultivate a trauma-informed culture at the University of Delaware.  The jokes we make, the judgments we pronounce, the media that we consume, the themes of parties that we host, the costumes that we wear, can lead to feelings of self blame, inadequacy, and paralysis within a victim.  Seemingly meaningless social banter contributes to a survivor’s ability to share their experience.  Feeling safe enough to share stories of abuse is a crucial step to connect students to the resources that they need and to managing the outcomes of trauma in their lives.

However, students are well positioned to identify habits of unhealthy relationships and intervene.  The OneLove foundation is an example of a partner organization that does a great job of teaching young adults about healthy and unhealthy relationship practices.  They offer self-assessment quizzes that are useful for thinking about if displays of intensity, jealousy, manipulation, isolation, sabotage, belittling, guilt, volatility, deflecting of responsibility, and betrayal are evident in relationships. 

When students experience or observe unhealthy patterns within a relationship it is important to stop dismissing them as a private matter and/or from minimizing their role in a larger pattern of abuse.  Students should take some time to prepare for a conversation with a friend who is experiencing relationship violence by: identifying the campus-based resources; thinking about familial, faculty, or faith based connections that might provide additional forms of support; framing the encounter as a conversation, not a confrontation; listening actively and without interruption; delicately highlighting patterns or behaviors that are of concern.  Ending an abusive relationship is often dangerous and it is important to keep the lines of communication open and encourage the utilization of professional advocacy services. To contact an SOS Victim Advocate, call the UD Helpline 24/7/365 at 302-831-1001 and press 1. The clinician will check to make sure that the student is safe, then take a first name & phone number and have an Advocate contact the student within 10 minutes.

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