Take Back the Halls: Ending Violence in Relationships and Schools

Take Back the Halls: Ending Violence in Relationships and Schools

I. Project Overviewtop

Take Back the Halls: Ending Violence in Relationships and Schools (TBTH) is a teen dating violence prevention and community activism program designed to prevent relationship violence among teens. The program is co-directed by Heather Flett, AM, LCSW, Director of Taking Back our Lives, a local women’s advocacy organization, and Dr. Beth Catlett, Director of the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender and Community (BRI) at DePaul University. Developed in 2004, TBTH is based on best practices for dating violence prevention programs and is designed to incorporate both service learning and research components for high school and college students. Under this model, high school student participants meet weekly throughout the school year to examine a range of issues related to violence and advocacy efforts toward ending such violence. Weekly group meetings are facilitated by specially trained staff from Taking Back our Lives and DePaul University interns who are taking a community-based service learning class that includes their participation in delivering the program throughout the academic year.

Take Back the Halls gives teens the opportunity to examine issues such as domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual abuse, as well as the variety of social structures that support violence in our culture. It creates a space for students to talk about issues affecting their lives, to generate ways to raise public awareness, to speak out against violence, and to advocate for change in their schools and communities. In short, TBTH aims to empower teens to become community leaders and active participants in the movement to end violence.

This university-community collaboration was created to address an epidemic of youth relationship violence. In fact, Arne Duncan, former chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, identified domestic violence as one of the three leading causes of the teen girls’ drop-out problem in Chicago public high schools. To respond to this pressing issue, we are committed to bringing Take Back the Halls to a broad range of schools throughout the Chicago community, with an emphasis on serving populations that have traditionally been underserved. For the last several years, TBTH has been providing programming at Roberto Clemente High School in West Town, North Lawndale College Prep in North Lawndale, and Nicholas Senn High School in Edgewater.

Key Goals:

Take Back the Halls has its foundation in feminist theory and this theoretical grounding has led to the articulation of seven overarching goals for the program:

  • Identify expressions of power, control, and multiple forms of discrimination in contemporary society
  • Increase awareness of violence against women and children, including sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence
  • Practice responses to such violence in everyday living
  • Meet individuals within schools to whom students can confide in and/or report incidents of violence
  • Become aware of and consider options for preventing and intervening with incidents of teen violence
  • Empower students to recognize and choose healthy relationships
  • Empower students to become community leaders and active participants in the movement to end violence

II. Context, Methodology & Primary Findingstop

Key Themes – College Student Participants

Acknowledging Systems of Power and Privilege

  • The majority of the research participants, through their service learning experience, were able to acknowledge their privilege and articulate an emergent understanding of their place in interlocking systems of power and privilege
  • Challenging Assumptions about “the Other”
  • From there, many students were able to interrogate and actively challenge preconceived assumptions about urban teens that have historically constructed and written them into inferiority

Interrogation of White Privilege and Racial Boundaries

  • Their service-learning experience was productive in other ways, evidenced in their critical analysis of the real risks that service-learning programs can foster – however unintentionally – by reproducing longstanding legacies of white supremacy and racial domination that undeniably obscures white, middle class complicity in perpetuating systemic power and oppression

Developing as a Change Agent

  • Many students came to appreciate the opportunities inherent in service-learning experiences that allow for exploring and exposing dynamics of power and privilege, out of which genuine community alliances with urban teens are possible

Conclusions and Implications

  • Our work provides further evidence of the potential that lies within “change models” of service-learning to contribute to shaping more just and equitable social conditions, provided students are given the space to critically reflect on socio-political dynamics
  • Service learning experiences that highlight the relationship among service-learning, power, privilege, and critical theoretical frameworks can greatly assist relatively privileged students in seeing themselves as allies engaged in the work of social change, with, rather than for others
  • Despite strategic efforts deployed through coursework and the opportunity to translate theory into practice, the sense-making process that takes place in service-learning is uneven and incremental; all college students were able to recognize how multiple and intersecting privileges operated in their lives, and from there, most were able to articulate challenges to prevalent assumptions about youth and families of color facing poverty and violence. Fewer, though, were able to demonstrate a more nuanced understanding of the limitations of more traditional service-learning approaches that seek social change through charity and fall short of deep, foundational critique and, thus, were unable to fully tease out how service-learning activities can inadvertently reproduce and reinforce systemic forms of privilege and domination.
  • Impactful service-learning experiences should be existentially “disturbing,” but the challenging work of interrogating foundational assumptions and the possibilities for social change depend, in part, on extended service-learning experiences that are, unfortunately, more the exception than the norm; our experience with students enrolled in TBTH, engaged in delivering the program for a full academic year, suggests a strong argument for the importance of stretching service-learning experiences over the course of a year or longer
  • Data from our work illustrated that the college students largely wrestled with the role of race privilege in their lives; nonetheless, we did hear echoes of class privilege in student narratives, reminding us of the importance in working with students to make this subject position visible and integral to impactful social change work; it is vitally important to couple explicit talk about whiteness and social class in the context of service-learning experiences
  • Future research should explore the potential impact of other forms of privilege, among them social class, gender, and sexual orientation

II. Course Based Research Modeltop


Each project sponsored by the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender and Community (BRI) in some way spurs the development of a curriculum that seeks to educate students in varied research processes. We strive to take students from content to methods and from academics to the world of community engagement and grass-roots organizing.

Our overall research agenda is to promote multidisciplinary collaborative study in the areas of gender, oppression, and resilience, providing opportunities for mutually reinforcing synergies between research, teaching, and community engagement. BRI projects are aimed at working with community members to bring about social change through research that addresses social policy, advocacy, and community development. Toward these ends each research project, including Take Back the Halls, is directed by a full-time faculty member who collaborates with student scholars to guide their partnership with members of community organizations and institutions. Additionally, we have developed a course-based research model that develops curricula to educate students in varied research processes, provides opportunities to participate in ongoing research projects, and integrates those experiences with contextual course content.

Community-Based Service Learning Curriculum

The Women and Gender Studies course WGS 387 (Teen Violence Prevention) is an interdisciplinary experiential/service learning seminar offered at DePaul University in which students critically reflect upon their service in Take Back the Halls. We explore youth perspectives on violence, considering the ways in which economic, social, political and cultural contexts influence violence in adolescents’ lives. In addition, we focus on liberatory and feminist pedagogies, youth sexualities, and collective work towards social change. Each week students address a set of theoretical and/or practical themes that in some way relate to teen violence and aggression, as well as prevention of such violence. Discussion of each theme draws from course readings, lecture materials, and the students’ experience of working with teens in schools. Students in this seminar are advisors to the Take Back the Halls program – that is, each student is a research assistant who is expected to make valuable contributions in terms of examining the applicability of existing theory and research to work in TBTH, participate in curriculum design, problem solving with particularly challenging teens and schools, and ultimately designing and implementing the program and program evaluation.

Quotes from Student Volunteers

  • “I think this program does a really good job of working to balance the practical work with a theoretical basis – it’s a very thoughtful program. I think it gave me a reference, in a way, of what a small community based program could look like – and how challenging it is to make it beneficial for everybody.”
  • “It is not only rewarding to see the transition that the students themselves go through, and what they are obtaining and the knowledge they are learning, but what I am gaining from it too. Every week I look forward to going to these classrooms and seeing these students…to be in the classroom with students that are just so brave and strong and honest is really incredible.”

IV. Leadership Team and Community Partnerstop

DePaul University and Community Partners
  • Beth Catlett, Ph.D. Co-founder of BRI and Chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender StudiesDr. Beth Catlett is the Department Chair and an Associate Professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at DePaul University. Professor Catlett received her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, and her doctorate in Family Relations and Human Development from the Ohio State University. Her areas of scholarly interest include community development, community-based participatory action research, diversity in families, violence in intimate relationships, qualitative research methodologies, and the social construction of masculinities. Dr. Catlett specializes in community-based research involving gendered violence, adolescent relationships, and social movements to create community change. Her research has been published in several journals including Family Science Review, Men and Masculinities, Violence and Victims, Family Relations, the American Journal of Community Psychology, and the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. She was most recently published in the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning.
  • Heather Flett, Executive Director and Founder of Taking Back Our Lives

Heather Flett is the Executive Director and Founder of Taking Back Our Lives (TBOL), a community based organization that focuses its work on ending violence against women and children. TBOL believes that the most effective way to end violence is through empowering women and youth with a grass roots, social justice model that empowers participants to become leaders in their own communities.

  • Amira Proweller, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Educational Policy Studies and Research

Amira Proweller, Associate Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Research, received her Ph.D. in the Social Foundations of Education from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is the author of Constructing Female Identities: Meaning Making in an Upper-Middle Class Youth Culture and has also written several articles on youth culture and gender issues in school context. Her research interests have focused on the cultural politics of schooling, youth culture and identity construction, qualitative research methodologies, and the socialization of urban teachers. Most recently, she has conducted collaborative research on the experiences of college students involved in a community-based service learning program on teen violence prevention in public schooling. Dr. Proweller serves as chair of the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Research in the College of Education at DePaul University and also teaches courses in the sociology of education, identity in education, social and historical issues in education, and qualitative research methods.

  • Katrina Wyss, Graduate Student Research Assistant (2010 – 2011)
  • Michelle Emery, Graduate Student Research Assistant (2011 – 2012)
  • Jen Pagonis, Graduate Student Research Assistant (2012 – 2013)

V. Funding & Sponsorstop

William and Irene Beck Foundation

The William and Irene Beck Foundation is a long time sponsor of the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender and Community and provides generous financial support for community based research and special projects, graduate assistantships, the faculty fellowship program, and other underwriting. The Foundation was a generous supporter of Take Back the Halls: Ending Violence in Relationships and Schools.


The William and Irene Beck Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation that provides grants, contributions, and in-kind services to other not-for-profit organizations with 501(C)3 status. It is a family foundation committed to helping programs that work against discrimination, particularly related to racism and sexism. Its primary foci are directed toward those with financial needs by providing program support and educational opportunities for low-income youth, children, as well as opportunities for job-related training for adults.

The foundation is intended to act as a catalyst for change, and supports innovative ideas, plans, and projects; it takes a pro-active part in the prevention of further problems. Its board and family members participate in as well as contribute to programs involving education, youth, and the disadvantaged. The foundation seeks to ally itself with activities and organizations which reach out to those who most need help.

Cynthia L. Bischof Memorial Foundation

The Cynthia L. Bischof Foundation was a generous supporter of Take Back the Halls: Ending Violence in Relationships and Schools, which seeks to empower teens to become community leaders and active participants in the movement to end violence.

The Foundation also sponsored a youth anti-violence conference at DePaul University in March of 2010, which was presented by the Women’s and Gender Studies program. The Cynthia L. Bischof Conference on Youth Anti-Violence sought to examine the presence of violence in communities and the ways in which anti-violence has been conceptualized, theorized, interrogated, and implemented in the lives of young people.

Mission Statement

The Cynthia L. Bischof Memorial Foundation is a catalyst for legislative and societal change. We hope to act in a thoughtful manner and serve as a role model for future mission-based, non-profit organizations. We aim to support the network of those who are already serving victims of domestic violence. We aspire to be the voice of the many victims who may not feel that they have a voice. We intend to expand accessibility of resources to those who might otherwise not have resources. Our hope is for a world without domestic violence; a world without the need for the existence of organizations such as ours.

Taking Back our Lives

Taking Back our Lives is a community-based organization that focuses its work on ending violence against women and children through a grass roots, social justice model that empowers participants and helps them to become leaders in their own communities. Taking Back our Lives is a community partner and sponsor of the BRI and co-directs Take Back the Halls: Ending Violence in Relationships and Schools.



  • Eileen Fischer
  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
  • Chicago Foundation for Women
  • Stimulus Social Club
  • DePaul University Vagina Monologues
Polk Brothers Foundation

The Polk Brothers Foundation provided a generous grant to support programming for Take Back the Halls: Ending Violence in Relationships and Schools.

Mission Statement

The Polk Bros. Foundation seeks to improve the quality of life for the people of Chicago. We partner with local nonprofit organizations that work to reduce the impact of poverty and provide area residents with better access to quality education, preventive health care and basic human services. Through our grant making, we strive to make Chicago a place where all people have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Girl’s Best Friend Foundation

The Girl’s Best Friend Foundation provided a generous grant to support programming for Take Back the Halls: Ending Violence in Relationships and Schools. The Girl’s Best Friend Foundation has been funding leadership, activism, and social change by girls and young women since 1994.

Mission Statement

To promote and protect the human rights of girls and young women by advancing and sustaining policies and programs that ensure their self-determination, power, and well-being. We support those who challenge the status quo by offering alternatives to the societal messages that girls and young women receive.

VI. Publications and Researchtop