When Mason sociologist Angela J. Hattery published her research monograph Intimate Partner Violence in 2008, the acquisition editor at Westview Press approached her to write a textbook.
“I was hesitant at first since I’d never written a textbook before, but I knew it was desperately needed in the classroom,” says Hattery, the associate director of the Women and Gender Studies Program. The result is her eighth book, The Social Dynamics of Family Violence, which she co-wrote with Earl Smith, Rubin Distinguished Professor of American Ethnic Studies at Wake Forest University.
This is a difficult book to read because of the subject matter. How does that work in the classroom?
I used the book this past semester, and the students definitely indicated that it was a difficult text to read because of the subject matter, especially for students who had experienced intimate partner violence, worked with abused children, or were anticipating the aging of their parents. That said, they all indicated that the book was worth reading despite the difficulty because it helped them understand violence in families in a way that was more universal than their own experiences or their own stereotypes. Those who work in schools, for example, felt the chapters on child abuse and what to do about it would help them in their jobs. Those who were interested in violence prevention found the chapter on prevention and intervention to be particularly useful.
What it means for the classroom is that we had to first establish a level of trust so students could share their experiences and ask difficult questions. It also meant that the classroom had to serve as a place to process reactions, not just process learning. This approach—which was really demanded—along with the subject led to a classroom that was a real learning community; a place where ideas were interrogated, including students feeling comfortable challenging arguments made in the book.
Was there anything you were surprised to learn during the writing of this text?
Because I had not previously done any research on elder abuse, I learned an awful lot about it to write this book. As a daughter of parents who are seniors, it was personally beneficial as well, so that I can more easily recognize the kinds of issues that my parents face.
What hope did you take away from writing the book or teaching the class?
At the end of the book and the end of the semester, the students were desperate for hope and something they could do to make a difference. One of the students in the class plays on the women’s basketball team. I challenged her to organize her teammates so that every time they travel for a game and stay in a hotel they bring back the hotel toiletries so we could collect them and make a donation to a shelter for battered women and children. The first class after Thanksgiving, after their first trip, she proudly arrived in class with a huge bag of toiletries she and her teammates had collected. She also delivered the news that the team had made a commitment to this project for the remainder of the season. All I can say is wow! This is the reason we write books like this and the reason we teach.