Transforming violence through social justice education

Carol A. Taylor has seen the aftermath of some of the worst ways humans can treat each other.

A woman so deeply scarred from abuse that she can barely make eye contact. A man who couldn’t get anyone to believe he had been raped by a woman. A child who was beaten by a parent.

Yet Carol will tell you she wouldn’t take back bearing witness to such ugliness and depravity. Only by slogging through the mess of it all did she get the privilege of seeing beautiful transformations on the other side.

“There is so much beauty in resiliency, so much beauty in survival,” said Taylor, a social justice educator with the Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Center at the University of Kentucky. “I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve been able throughout my career to get to see people come through the fire better and stronger. It’s like watching a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.”

Carol, 43, witnessed many of those transformations during 20 years of work in child welfare. She started out as a child protection worker, “a baby snatcher” who removed children from unsafe environments and worked with parents to help situations improve so that they could get their children back.

She went on to train child protection workers, then ran an in-home parenting program and later facilitated team meetings between families in crisis and community service providers.

Changing the culture

Each post gave her valuable training for her dream job — her current role at VIP. The center works with students, staff, faculty and community partners toward the mission of eliminating the perpetration of interpersonal violence including sexual assault, partner violence and stalking.

She and her colleagues teach and counsel on healthy dating, setting boundaries, and ways to intervene in situations that appear to be headed toward violence. Carol’s primary role is to help people understand the direct connection between social justice and interpersonal violence.

“All violence is rooted in oppression, and all social justice issues — racism, homophobia, sexism, misogyny, poverty — are rooted in oppression,” Carol explained. “We try to help people understand that changing the culture and making things safer requires us to address social justice issues.”

She counsels young women of color that being a “strong black woman” doesn’t mean having to tolerate interpersonal violence. When a gay man is sexually assaulted, she balks at some people’s thinking that “he got what he deserved.”

“No one deserves to be assaulted,” Carol insists. “No one.”

Nothing in Carol’s personal background prepared her for the darkness she would encounter in her career. Parents Curry and Jean Carol of Lexington, still married and still very much in love, taught her and her four siblings how to support each other as a team and how to work hard.

Carol does her best to leave work at work. She spends her free time with wife Kim Shim and their dogs, often indulging in a guilty pleasure — watching reality TV.

“They’re all just so out there, you know,” she said. “I guess I love them because they’re just so far from being real.”

Carol’s work hasn’t deterred her from believing that at their very core people are good.

“We all start out good, and it’s the experiences along the way that can make us darker and emptier,” Carol said. “I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by some very passionate and supportive people. I feel an obligation to help someone else who doesn’t have that. If I can do that, then I will have lived an incredibly successful life.”