ASU-based program that trains students to help domestic violence survivors expands nationwide

New federal grant will enable Survivor Link members to serve at 14 campuses in 11 states

June 10, 2022

Since 2015, School of Social Work Professor Jill Messing and her colleagues have guided an Arizona State University program that has trained hundreds of students to help thousands of domestic violence survivors cope and move ahead with their lives.

Several months ago, thinking about whether Survivor Link‘s accomplishments could be achieved at other universities, Messing contacted colleagues at social work schools across the country. After receiving many positive replies, she applied for a federal grant to fund expansion of the program. Survivor Link, School of Social work, students, King Day, Day of Service, books Student members of ASU's Survivor Link program participating in a January 2020 day of service wrapped more than 1,000 children's books to be distributed to Valley domestic-violence shelters. Photo by Mark J. Scarp/ASU Download Full Image

The grant, totaling just over $1 million, will expand funding for the program at ASU and establish Survivor Link at 13 additional campuses in Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

“This funding will allow us to provide funding and domestic violence training to 99 social work students across 11 states” including Arizona, said Messing, director of ASU’s Office of Gender-Based Violence.

Seven years ago, Messing started Survivor Link. The award-winning AmeriCorps program has provided multifaceted support to more than 3,000 domestic violence survivors and has trained 445 student members at ASU as domestic violence advocates in collaboration with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Survivor Link is among recipients of the annual Public Health AmeriCorps awards, a collaboration between AmeriCorps, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Corporation for National and Community Service. The collaboration is investing $400 million over five years to help meet public health needs and advance more equitable health outcomes for socially vulnerable groups.

“The aim of our project is to build capacity within nonprofit and government public health and complementary agencies to respond to domestic violence in their local communities, thus enabling the organization to provide sustained and effective intimate partner violence services and increasing the reach of the program,” Messing said.

With the new funding, which begins in August, Survivor Link will also provide future social workers here and on the other campuses — who have been trained in domestic violence response — opportunities to pursue careers in public-health-related fields, she said.

“The program has the potential to make a large contribution to public health across the United States by improving services and interventions for survivors and training the next generation of social workers to respond to intimate partner violence,” Messing said.

Survivor Link’s expansion will help meet the growing need for public health workers to be more knowledgeable about domestic violence, as one-third of women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, Messing said.

“This funding will enable Survivor Link’s success at ASU, which has supported more than 3,000 domestic violence survivors and helped train hundreds of students as domestic violence advocates, to be brought to so many more parts of the country," said Foundation Professor Elizabeth Lightfoot, director of ASU’s School of Social Work.

“It’s a tribute to the work of Professor Messing, her colleagues and their students that Survivor Link’s commitment to offering solutions and raising public awareness will be established on 14 campuses nationwide.”

In 2020, ASU President Michael Crow honored Survivor Link with the President’s Medal for Social Embeddedness. At ASU, Survivor Link student members have logged more than 190,000 hours of service by engaging daily in interventions to help survivors understand their risks and make plans for safety, Messing said. Student members, who were trained by Survivor Link at ASU in collaboration with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, have earned over $1.2 million in scholarships, she said.

Messing said she plans to hire a chief trainer in July.

Once the program is in operation at the schools, each will have between three and 12 Survivor Link Public Health and AmeriCorps members, enabling students to work in teams to increase their knowledge and ability to provide evidence-based intervention.

In addition to ASU, the other schools are located at the University of Central Florida, Ball State University, University of Kansas, University of Louisville, Simmons University, University at Albany-State University of New York, University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University, Case Western Reserve University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, University of Texas-Arlington and University of Texas-Austin.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Caribbean dance expert joins School of Music, Dance and Theatre faculty

June 10, 2022

Dance educator Shola K. Roberts will be joining the dance faculty in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University.

Roberts is an international award-winning professional dancer, educator, choreographer and fitness instructor from Brooklyn, New York. A proud Grenadian American, she will bring her expertise in Caribbean dance and culture to ASU.  Shola K. Roberts said her greatest accomplishment is bridging her two passions: her ongoing work with the art of dance and her love of Caribbean and Grenadian culture. Download Full Image

“I feel this is an area that may not have been tapped into, so I’m thinking about how to bring this content to a population that may not be familiar with it,” Roberts said.

Social media and videos have helped people begin to understand Caribbean culture, Roberts said, but there’s so much more. 

“I’m a firm believer that you have to live and breathe it,” she said. “I eat it. I sleep it. It's my life.”

Roberts has a strong background in education. She was selected as one of only eight candidates to pursue a doctoral degree in dance education at Columbia University in 2019. Her research interests include developing pedagogy and curriculum rooted in African diasporic dances — specifically dances indigenous to Grenada — as a means of physical, mental and emotional development. She is also interested in creating culture and community while empowering learners through the arts.

“We are thrilled to have attracted Shola Roberts to ASU,” said Heather Landes, director of the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “Our students will benefit from Roberts’ experience as a pre-K–12 educator, dancer and choreographer, and her expertise in Caribbean dance and culture further diversifies our offerings and aligns with our goal of creating one of the most inclusive dance programs in the country.”

Roberts earned a master’s degree in dance education from Hunter College and a bachelor's degree in dance and Caribbean studies from Howard University. In 2017, she was named a Lincoln Center Scholar. In 2020, she was honored with the Cultural Award by the Grenadian Consulate and the Grenadian Independence Committee in New York.

She has worked with renowned dance companies, including performances with Kowteff West African Dance Company under the artistic direction of Sewaa Codrington and Oyu Oro under the artistic direction of Danys “La Mora” Pérez. She has also worked with choreographers Fritzlyn Hector, Francine Elizabeth Ott and Otis D. Herring, for whom she served as an assistant choreographer.

Roberts said she looks forward to sharing her experiences with ASU dancers. 

“All I can do is to come and share my life with you, using dance as the entry point to showcase another area, another region, another part of the diaspora and the work that's being done there,” she said.

She said her greatest accomplishment is bridging her two passions: her ongoing work with the art of dance and her love of Caribbean and Grenadian culture.

“I feel if I am able to share with the world what Grenada has to offer — our voice and our culture and our history — that would be my greatest accomplishment,” Roberts said. “I am continuously trying to do that every day.”

Roberts said one thing that drew her to ASU was the supportive nature of the faculty and administration.

“In visiting ASU and having conversations with the faculty members, that seems to be one of their driving forces — the idea of community and the idea of supporting individuals in their endeavors,” she said.

What does Roberts hope ASU students know about her?

“I just want them to know that I am extremely passionate about this work, and I’m here to support, encourage and help them find their passion,” she said.

“My appearance is purposed and profound; it sends a message of boldness. My intention is to take up space through my art and my colorful sense of fashion. I want to help others find that sense of boldness. Our actions are a reflection of our passions. So what I do is just a reflection of what I love and care about.”

In 2019, Roberts founded Dance Grenada, a dance festival for Grenadian and international dancers to share knowledge through workshops, performances and panel discussions. The festival will be held in person in Grenada for the first time this fall. Roberts says she hopes ASU students and faculty will join her there. 

“I am extremely excited and proud of the work that I have started in Brooklyn and in Grenada, and I am ecstatic to continue that work at ASU,” Roberts said. “This is an extension of that legacy, the next part of my journey.”

Lacy Chaffee

Media and communications coordinator, School of Music, Dance and Theatre