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More Than 500 Expected to Attend
Smith Conference on School Violence

Unusual Collaboration to Bring Together Community Leaders, School Officials, Police Officers and Social Workers to Seek Joint Responses to Violence in Youth

Violence in schools is undeniably a high-profile issue. But is school violence increasing? Is it predictable? Is it preventable?

"For some groups in our society, particularly the poor, our schools have rarely been entirely safe places," notes Anita Lightburn, dean of the Smith College School for Social Work.

"The difference today is that school violence is entering all ranges of communities. People are waking up to what we've known for a long time-that school violence is not a school problem but a community problem. And it demands a community response."

On Friday, June 9, the School for Social Work, in conjunction with the Springfield and Northampton school departments and the Hampden County District Attorney's Office, will host an unprecedented effort to mobilize against school violence in western Massachusetts.

"Safe Schools: Building Fortresses or Opening the Doors to Community," a day-long conference, will feature speakers ranging from teachers to state troopers to juvenile justice workers to social workers. More than 500 participants are expected to attend some 40 workshops, centered on finding appropriate, effective responses to the growing trend of youth violence.

Examples of workshops include: "Could YOU Say 'No' to Gangs and Violence?," "Are 'Zero-Tolerance Laws' Workable?," "Safe Havens: Supporting Young Children Who Witness Violence," and "Shame and Humiliation: Changing a Toxic Environment."

The conference will feature keynote addresses by two nationally recognized experts on youth violence, Jim Garborino, Ph.D., and Deborah Prothrow-Stith, M.D. Both keynote speeches will take place in Sage Hall and are open to the public without registration.

From 9:15 to 10:15 a.m., Garborino, director of Cornell University's Family Life Development Center, will present "The Human Face of Violent Youth," an examination of why many children have turned to violence to express anger. The author of "Raising Children in a Socially Toxic Environment" (1995) and "Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them" (1999), Garborino examines the societal changes that have made violence many children's preferred mode of expressing anger.

Prothrow-Stith, associate dean of the Harvard University School of Public Health, will speak from 1 to 2 p.m., presenting "The Importance of a Community Response to Violence." A leading authority on community violence, Prothrow-Stith examines violence in the context of a societal "disease" that can be addressed via public health strategies.

The idea for the conference, Lightburn explains, came from a group of students at the School for Social Work who were working as interns at two inner-city schools in Springfield. In the wake of last summer's shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, they approached Lightburn to mobilize the resources of the social work school toward a proactive strategy around school violence.

A planning committee, chaired by Irene Rodriguez-Martin, the School for Social Work's director of continuing education and external affairs, saw the conference as an opportunity not only to address a critical social problem but also to extend the school's growing collaboration with schools and agencies in Springfield, Northampton and surrounding communities.

Also represented on the conference committee are Joshua Miller, associate professor of social work, Smith College; Sheila McCarthy, victim/witness advocate, Hampden County District Attorney's Office; Isabelina Rodriguez-Babcock, director of pupil services, Northampton Public Schools; Alex Gillat, principal, Springfield Academy; and Dennis Vogel, director of collaborative programs, Springfield School Department.

Conference events begin with registration and coffee at 8:15 a.m. and conclude at 3:45 p.m. with closing remarks and a reception. For more information, contact Kathy Carlson at (413) 585-7955 or by email at

The Smith College School for Social Work, which offers master's and doctoral degrees in social work with a concentration in clinical practice, is one of the oldest and most distinguished schools for clinical social work in the United States.

May 26, 2000


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