The headlines are heartbreaking, but we see them flash across our television screens nightly: another child hurt, abandoned or abused. No matter how many times we hear these tragic stories, the horror is never lessened. How can such senseless violence against society’s most innocent individuals continue? What causes the abuse? What can be done to help and protect victims? These are among several questions that Dr. Monica McCoy explores in her Child Abuse and Neglect class. “Child abuse is a common problem,” Dr. McCoy says. “My main goal is to correct misconceptions, to teach students to know the difference between an accident and abuse.”
Dr. McCoy teaches students how to critically examine the phenomenon of child maltreatment. She also explores parental factors, contextual influences, the developmental consequences of maltreatment, and spends time going over the legal system. Students from every cross-section of the student body elect to take the class each fall for a variety of reasons. “Many students are motivated to study child abuse and neglect because they plan to have careers that will require them to be mandated reporters of maltreatment. Other students are just interested in the topic – some because they were victims themselves, or they know somebody who was a victim. For others, it is simply human interest. The bond between parents and children is a fundamental part of human experience. There is a desire for most people to understand how this relationship can be so flawed for some people,” Dr. McCoy explained.
In a course with very sensitive subject matter, knowing my students means I can reach out to them if they are struggling emotionally with what they are learning.
Sadly, too many students have had to use the information they learned in Dr. McCoy’s class in a real-world context, “I have had many former students tell me that they have used what they learned in my child abuse course. I am, of course, glad they have the knowledge, but I hate knowing that their needing it means a child is being maltreated,” said McCoy.
In a class with such sensitive subject matter, Dr. McCoy feels it is important to create an environment where students can feel comfortable with her and with each other, “I let students know that is okay to get teary or to cry. There is no shame in being moved by the suffering of children. I also encourage them to talk to me if certain topics in the course get to be too much for them. In a course with very sensitive subject matter, knowing my students means I can reach out to them if they are struggling emotionally with what they are learning. In many ways the relationships that develop between students and faculty may be as important as any facts they learn. Many of my former students contact me to discuss possible cases of child maltreatment in the early years of their careers,” said Dr. McCoy
Through this course, students explore a heartrending and important topic. They learn to approach the topic of child abuse with a meticulous eye and to make accurate and efficient conclusions based on factual information. Most importantly, students come away wearing a critical lens through which to view this critical issue.