Hopkins nursing students address violence in St. Croix middle schools
By Sara Mitchell
The middle schoolers in St. Croix were still in shock and mourning. Just days before a group of Johns Hopkins nursing students arrived at their school, the young students had suffered a devastating loss—a teacher had been murdered by her partner.
The Hopkins students were there to deliver the message that “Hands & Words Are Not For Hurting,” and the timing of their presentation on nonviolence could not have been better.
The violence “comes from the neighborhoods and comes into the school and creates a problem for learning,” said Desiree Douglas, accelerated ’09. Douglas was among 15 Hopkins students and two faculty members who traveled to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands for the public health clinical rotation last summer.
On the itinerary was a stop at Elena Christian and Arthur Richards middle schools, both known to have a culture of violence including fighting and name-calling among the students. The Hopkins group presented The Hands & Words Are Not For Hurting Project, which allows participants to discuss violence and conflict resolution—and take a pledge to never use their hands or words to hurt others.
The Hopkins students spoke with more than 500 middle schoolers about the definitions of violence and examples of violent events on the island, allowing the young students to guide the conversation.
“As nurses [in the U.S.], we see that violence is our job, abuse is our job, and we should be dealing with it,” Douglas said. “The culture [in St. Croix] is different, but I think we initiated a conversation that needed to be happening. It seems as though they are opening to change.”
The program was so successful that the schools are planning to continue the program themselves. If sustained, The Hands Project may bring the St. Croix community more peace over time by helping make students aware of the power they have to stop the violence, Douglas said. “It starts with the students and teachers there,” she said. “That’s exactly what we wanted, and hopefully the students will continue.”
Learn more about the Hands & Words Project at www.handsproject.org.