Season three of Knights Do That, UCF’s official podcast, returns with its sixth guest, Bethany Backes, an assistant professor in the Violence Against Women faculty cluster and holds a joint appointment in the Department of Criminal Justice and School of Social Work. Backes worked for more than 10 years as a social science analyst for the U.S. Department of Justice and joined UCF in 2019.
Here she shares her research with the cluster, what it means to be a champion both against violence and for social justice, and how she has succeeded in academia.
Bethany Backes: Messing up is also how we learn. And so I think sometimes that’s helpful, is asking questions and wanting to learn and saying, “How can I do better? How can I change that?” And then adjusting that.
James Evans: Hello and welcome back to another episode of Knights Do That. Today we have Dr. Bethany Backes on the show, who is an assistant professor and a lead researcher in the Violence Against Women Faculty Research cluster. The cluster works to understand and address specifically gender-based violence, [and] also sexual violence and domestic violence.
Dr. Backes has also worked for the Department of Justice for more than 10 years, and there she led major initiatives to address violence against people of all genders. At UCF, she continues that important work.
On this episode, we’re going to discuss Dr. Backes’ research, the research cluster, what it means to be a champion against violence and how she succeeded in academia. Before we get into this episode, I want to note violence of any form can be a tough topic and may be triggering to survivors, so please keep that in mind before continuing.
Bethany, thanks for being here today. How are you?
Bethany Backes: I’m great. Thanks for having me.
James Evans: Fantastic. You ready to just jump into the questions?
Bethany Backes: Go for it.
James Evans: Sure, let’s do it. OK. So you have a great list of credentials, a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctoral degree, all of which are related to social work and health. So I have two questions that really stem from that. Your degrees and your work over a long course of time have been focused on social work and domestic violence. Where did this passion and hyperfocus come from?
Bethany Backes: Yeah, I think it came early on in my undergraduate career. You know, unlike today’s students, I came in not knowing, thinking what my major was going to be, but we didn’t have to really declare until most way through. And I don’t know, I always had a history of volunteering and working with people in different aspects and I just gravitated towards social work.
And then I think a lot of us that come to the field of domestic violence and sexual violence have a lot of our own lived experiences or friends have had experiences. If you’re a woman, basically, at least probably one, maybe more friends have experienced, unhealthy relationships or sexual violence.
And so it was just important to me. I was also a resident advisor in a residence hall. You know, I had that storied career of res life and, saw many of my students impacted by stalking, dating violence, sexual violence on campus. And, decided that was something I wanted to focus on pretty early on and kind of geared my training and focused my field placements on working with domestic violence organizations. And, you know, did my undergrad in social work and then went on right away to do a master’s in social work in public health, where I primarily worked with my internship in field placement at domestic violence serving organizations.
James Evans: So with that experience, something that I don’t see often is somebody going from their bachelor’s degree in a specific area and actually staying with it, not only through one master’a and, and then a doctoral after that, but two master’s and then a doctoral. And it’s all really focused.
Did your passion for this, did your focus on this start before college? Did you come in with that idea or did it come from your experience and, you know, res life and, and further that you decided to make that such a focus?
Bethany Backes: It really came in college, like in college. And I, feel like a lot of us, I think it came in college, like I experienced violence in a relationship and sexual violence. And I think a lot of us come to the field as survivors, right? But there’s certain self-reflection and self-care you need to do to know if you can really still work in the field. You don’t want to — and, I work with so many students who come and want to work with the Violence Against Women cluster, want to work on my projects who have their own lived experience, either themselves, their family, friends, and so on, and really want to make a difference.
So very early on, this was something I was passionate about. It was important to me. It was something I experienced, many other people I knew experienced, so when I went to graduate school and had the opportunity to work, both at what’s now called, Futures Without Violence, back then, it’s a huge nonprofit. It’s in San Francisco. I did my public health field placement there, and then I worked with the Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention Treatment Board. So I was gearing my master’s education specifically towards looking at gender based violence and particularly violence against women. But getting a job in the field is a little different. I didn’t go back to my doctorate degree for several years, and I wanted to be sure if I was going to invest time in getting doctorate. I wanted to make sure I was really wanting to do it right.
James Evans: Of course.
Bethany Backes: And so yeah, I probably had about eight years before working in the field directly either doing victim services or kind of community health based work. Sometimes I did clinical direct services with survivors and that really helped me put me on the path to realize what were my triggers, what I felt, where I could feel like I could make an impact and make a difference, and maybe areas I needed to work on a little bit more. And so research and policy and program development was really kind of my area that I really always enjoyed and felt like I could make the most impact there, which led me to my graduate degree.
But I was already working at the Department of Justice.
James Evans: What was that experience like? A, I’m so curious. What was it like working at the Department of Justice? B, what was it like getting a doctorate at the same time while you were working there? I mean, I’m sure it’s an incredible experience and story.
Bethany Backes: Well, I always think to myself, how did I, do that because not only I was going working full time in DC doing my doctorate part time.
James Evans: Mm-hmm.
Bethany Backes: And I also had a kid in between that time, which I think back now and think, “What was I thinking?” You know? But just very structured schedule and just kind of keeping the focus on, And I think it also helped that I was a little older student.
James Evans: Mm-hmm.
Bethany Backes: And I knew what I wanted to focus on, right? I had the trajectory in mind. I really thought I was going to stay at the Department Justice for good. I didn’t really think I’d be making this leap later to academia, but the Department of Justice was interesting. You know, I worked through three administrations, so I was there with Bush, the younger Bush.
James Evans: Mm-hmm.
Bethany Backes: I was there for, the Obama-Biden administration and then there for, part of the Trump administration. And so that was just, it was really interesting to see how things worked. Although I was further removed, it was just really amazing to work with really dedicated people across the federal government that are working on these issues and get to lead programs and get to meet experts in the field across the country.
I mean, many of who I still connect with, whether it’s national organizations or other faculty or researchers doing this work, or survivors who go out and tell their stories and write books, just really amazing opportunities. I don’t know what you want to hear more about the DOJ times. I mean, definitely interesting, definitely political stuff happening, but, I felt like I was able to accomplish some things there and really push the envelope forward a little bit on the DOJ’s research on gender-based violence.
James Evans: I’ll try and focus you in on two things.
Bethany Backes: OK.
James Evans: First, the mindset of working for a federal agency like that. You’ve got to think about more than just one stakeholder. You’ve got to think about a lot of different people in a lot of different situations. What was that like in trying to broaden your perspective and understand so many different types of people and types of different situations and really manage that as somebody who is trying to support?
Bethany Backes: It was hard also because I was a social worker in a criminal justice agency, right?
I’m often looked at a little, even now I’m in a criminal justice department, and I split with — I have a joint appointment with social work. I always feel like the oddball, maybe they do or don’t look at me, as the oddball. But I come from a very specific lens with my social work and public health in terms of having research and policy that’s driven by communities and driven by survivors and victims and driven by people who are doing the work on the ground.
And that’s the way really to be impactful and, to get people back what they need, which isn’t always the same viewpoint that people had, right? And you’re also working with people who have different backgrounds, right? You’re working with statisticians, you’re working with criminologists, you’re working with sociologists, you’re working with MDs.
You know, the Violence Against Women cluster is very interdisciplinary. But I love that you learn so much from working with other people that don’t think or learn the same way as you or think about things the same way.
It can make projects much more innovative, and successful when you have kind of all these different points of view in place. So that’s challenging. So you’re constantly adapting and the federal government’s very fast paced. And as administrations change and political appointees change over, you’re constantly adapting to the next person.
I definitely liked that part of it. But also it was frustrating cuz there was things that I as an expert in the field we’re important and our political directors might not think it’s important. They don’t know this work. You know, they have maybe antiquated views about gender-based violence and victimization.
And so those parts were really frustrating there. And that was probably one of the reasons I made the leap to academia is some of those frustrations and feeling like, I think I’m done doing work here. I think I can make a larger impact by, doing the research myself and really trying to work with the next generation of gender-based violence scholars.
James Evans: There’s a second focus there that I don’t want to lose either. absolutely, We’re going to get into the interdisciplinary part because that’s such a huge key with any type of academic work. But there’s a second piece there, and I think some of our listeners are going to get value out of it. There may be quote unquote nontraditional students that have a similar experience of they’re coming back to college after a master’s or for a master’s they might have a kid, or they’ll have a full-time job and they’re trying to manage getting an education while also being a full time professional.
What was that experience like? Do you have any, you know, insights for those who are listening about tips and tricks what was that experience? Can you give us insight?
Bethany Backes: It’s hard. I’m not going to downplay it. I mean, it’s definitely hard to manage that thing. I had a very supportive partner.
Other people are doing it as a single mom or single parent or doing it potentially while a partner is deployed. I was thankful for that. But it’s something I stress now with my students, I say, “You know, you’re not going to be successful unless you’re taking care of yourself.”
And that’s the biggest thing. And so I know other programs might say the Ph.D. or school is your job. You should be putting under things, you know, all your energy into that. I don’t subscribe to that. Sometimes I get called soft for not subscribing to that. But as I tell my students, the top priority is yourself. Take care of yourself, your family. Then, you know, maybe it’s, a job that you need to be able to focus on. To go to school and then at school and then it’s your work with me kind of down at the bottom somewhere, I feel that’s really helpful in students and they see that I care about them as a human. And that hopefully that lets them rely some work life balance skills to realize school is important, but you’re right. Like I’m not going to be able to accomplish all this if I’m not taking care of myself.
James Evans: Mm-hmm.
Bethany Backes: And I think that’s something I’ve learned along the way. That’s hard and I still struggle with it.
I think we all struggle with it. All of us are in school working. I mean, everyone struggles with that to a certain extent is putting those boundaries in place really being reflective and thinking about, my time management and the care of myself and am I spending enough time with my kids and my family and things like that.
Sometimes you need to take a step back. I’m not going to write a good paper or be able to focus much if I’m not taking care of myself.
James Evans: Exactly. And that’s something I really didn’t grasp or fully understand as quote unquote more traditional student. Only having been able to go to UCF and have these conversations have, I’ve really been able to see that side of it and understand better that. Yess, absolutely, people are coming back to college more than we ever thought. And that’s the trend. That’s where things are going, and that’s where the future is.
Bethany Backes: I love that about UCF. I love that I can walk into a classroom and I have students that are my age, that are older than me, that are younger, students that are working, students, that are involved in activities, students that are athletes, students that are in the military, and you. And it brings such great viewpoints to the classroom and discussion and you can really learn so much when you’re actually kind of engaging with your students to bring their own experience into the classroom.
James Evans: Mm-hmm.
Bethany Backes: Such a valuable thing. That’s one of the things I love about UCF. And I mean, I’m amazed at these students that I work with that are just like, they already know they want to apply to med school, they want to do 500 hours of research, they want to do this. But I also challenge them to step back and enjoy the college experience. I don’t think we encourage that probably as much as we can.
James Evans: Mm-hmm.
Bethany Backes: And also let them enjoy the college experience. You’ll accomplish everything you want to do, you can also have a little fun along the way
James Evans: It’s something, I’m thankful I have some mentors who have really tried to drill that into me as a person who wants to just go, go, go, go, go.
Bethany Backes: Mm-hmm.
James Evans: It’s OK. Take a step back. You don’t need to do it in three years. It’s OK to do it in four and fill that with some funner classes or, different experiences that you otherwise wouldn’t get, right? That’s how I ended up here as an accounting major, doing a podcast of all things.
Bethany Backes: Yeah.
James Evans: That’s got to be enjoyable somehow. So, we’re going to get into a little bit of a, a touchier subject for those listening. Just a heads up, we are talking about domestic violence. So please be aware and, do what you need to do as far as, being a listener or not.
Today, the statistics on domestic violence and, physical and sexual violence are staggering. More than 10 million adults experienced domestic violence annually. One in three women globally will experience physical and or sexual violence and intimate partner violence costs the U.S. economy roughly anywhere from six to 12 billion each year.
You obviously know these statistics. I was shocked to learn these statistics, but I wasn’t entirely surprised by it either, which is this crazy thing. And I think most of us have some semblance of understanding where these statistics are coming from and almost innately know that they’re not off and they’re probably understated most of the time, right? If the statistics are so overwhelming why are seemingly so few people championing the cause to end domestic violence?
Bethany Backes: So I appreciate that you see that. It is huge. It is huge. It’s an issue, right? It’s a crisis.
James Evans: Mm-hmm.
Bethany Backes: I disagree with that. There’s so few people. I think there’s tons of people, right?
James Evans: Yeah.
Bethany Backes: That are in this fight. And I’m in it and work with many of the people, but there’s tons of organizations and agencies on the forefront. There’s survivors that have experienced this, that now are creating their own agencies and doing peer led and doing advocacy. There’s. cops out there and prosecutors that are doing great work to address domestic and sexual violence, you know, and working collaboratively with their communities. So I think there’s a lot of great work, a lot of people focusing on it. I think there is like a lot of things that we tend to think are hot topics or we want to focus on, and there’s also like capacity of resources, right?
So a lot of times the way our country is set up, you know, a lot of these organizations and programs are only funded through kind of federal pass through funds or taxpayer dollars or things like that are, they have to go actively get fundraising. So it’s rare to see something that’s kind of written into legislation where you get regular, recurring money to provide these types of services.
And so a lot of what I do is work with these community-based agencies to figure out how much of these things cross, how can we prove it, how can we elevate. Your platform to show kind of the real cost of providing these services and addressing it. So there’s that piece of it in terms of addressing what I would call the secondary and tertiary prevention, which is really like what happens after victimization?
How do we help the person and how do we stop it from happening again?
James Evans: Mm-hmm.
Bethany Backes: And then there’s primary prevention, which we don’t invest a lot into, and a lot of that needs to happen at a much younger age. And there’s debates in our state and other states about what is appropriate for schools and what isn’t in terms of healthy relationships and sex education and things like that, which are really important things to talk about with kids and younger folks.
For a while we were doing a lot of prevention programming on college campuses and now in high schools. And so we’re realizing we have to start younger. So I’m not sure if that fully answers, but I think there are a lot of people doing this work. I also think it’s a scary topic and we still have a lot of myths to overcome around domestic and sexual violence. A lot of people think it’s a personal issue. “It would never happen to me. It doesn’t happen to my family. It happens to poor people. It happens to people of color. It happens here.” And none of that is true, right? It happens to everyone. And we tend to put it in a box.
Or we sensationalize it in unhealthy ways, right? People also have these very, specific views about what it is, right? It has to be someone being beaten up or certain things have to happen for it to be legitimate domestic violence. And that’s also not true.
We need to educate ourself more on what it can look like in different relationships. And we also have traditional views that it can only happen to women and that’s also not true. a lot of men experience violence, and violence happens in all relationships.
It’s not limited to heterosexual relationships, right? So we also need a broaden our lens. So while we might talk about Violence Against Women, which I think a lot of us in the cluster feel like we do more gender-based violence work, it’s easy to feel like, “Oh, let’s think about the woman or children and stuff.” But it’s less easy to think about men or think about a gay man, or think about a trans man or trans woman. And I think we really need a broaden to look at how violence affects individuals and people more broadly and not just kind of pick who we think are quote unquote deserving of care and support.
So I feel like that’s the area we really need to grow in. And then really focusing on prevention, education and driving support for services that are existing. And that includes right now, a lot of my work focuses on housing, and housing is a crisis. It’s a crisis for people who have experienced violence.
When you experience violence, you often might have lost work, You might have gotten fired from your job. You might be displaced from your home. You might have to move somewhere. You might have expenses that are not yours, and so it’s really difficult for survivors and victims to find housing and find stable housing and housing that is safe.
We tend to go, you know, provide these initial services, but it’s really hard to get support and money to provide these long term services that really can support someone moving towards a life free of violence.
James Evans: That’s a really insightful answer. There are pieces there that I hadn’t really thought about. Of course, housing being, more specific, but absolutely something that probably slips the mind of most listeners or most readers where absolutely like you’re going to have some major struggles financially in just that aspect, let alone the rest of your life if you’re a victim or dealing with awful circumstances.
And specifically, I want to get into how can we adjust our expectations, our understanding, break down the stigma, break down the walls and the apathy that’s there, and start recognizing where the champions may be or just understanding and looking for those resources to be able to provide and support others.
How can we start to break that down?
Bethany Backes: Yeah, I think one of the best ways you can support people is just by listening hear their stories. I think a lot of people want a quick, easy solution or they want to run in there and feel like they fix something or save someone. We hear a lot of that in the field, you know, like just wanting and wanting credit for saving someone or doing something like, you know, and we don’t need any kind of white knight we need people to listen and validate stories, validate communities that are experiencing this, and organizations, and really hear what they need and meet people in places where they’re at. Community organizations, they might not need this huge donation of canned goods. Like thanks, but what they might need is feminine products for the people in the shelter. And so we typically, I think a lot of us tend to give what we want to give as opposed to what someone actually needs, right?
James Evans: Mm-hmm.
Bethany Backes: And so I think that’s also important is to really listen. And that’s like a broader example with kind of some of the organizations, but also with survivors who are going through it. Sometimes they just need someone to listen and validate what they’re hearing. You know, one of the more common reasons someone doesn’t seek more help or doesn’t continue disclosing their experiences of violence is because the first time they disclosed it, someone reacted poorly or negatively or maybe blamed them and somehow for it happening.
So that closes them down and they don’t seek help. And I think we saw a lot of that come out in the hashtag me too movement. Where you saw a lot of people speaking out and some people were speaking out after 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, for the first time. And so, us who do this work and look at how victims might process their experiences and decide to seek help or decide to talk to someone about it, it’s a very private, individualized experience.
And I think the best thing we can do is just listen, validate, support them, meet them where they’re at. I would say, and then I think the other big thing that I want to see more men in particular do, is call other men out on their bad behavior. We don’t do that enough, right? And to hold other people accountable. And especially when people, like you see someone, even with the #MeToo movement or something like that, you see this on social media or people getting attacked or women getting attacked for telling their stories. You know, having other people be able to hold other people accountable and In general conversations right at a party.
Just the way you might talk about someone in the classroom. I think there’s lots of opportunities for people to speak up and hold other people accountable. And it’s a constant conversation I have with my partner, with my husband about like, here’s a place for, you could speak up and say something. Or like, why do I need to say something like, you should be able to do it. And he does. But we have these conversations about places you can do it and also model that behavior for our kids. I have two girls and so, you know, really thinking about them, seeing these role models and people modeling and calling out, whether it’s even on the TV or something else.
James Evans: I do some leadership classes. I was in the LEAD Scholars Academy. I shouldn’t say I do some leadership classes. I’ve graduated from the academy now, and we had a leadership curriculum where we talked about some really important subjects such as intersectionality and where do you have social, political, economic, capital, et cetera and what goes beyond, “Oh, I just have money in my bank account, but I am in a space where I feel comfortable and I feel recognized, and I feel aware somebody else might not have that same privilege or that same understanding or that same experience in that moment as I might have.” And so they may not be able to speak up because that may cost them more than what it’s worth, especially if there’s an opportunity there, right? But if you’re somebody who has the social or political capital to say something and do something about a situation, you have to be able to recognize that and be aware of it. So can you give us insight into what that looks like? Self-awareness in the moment? How can we be conscious about these things and better aware of it in our daily lives?
Bethany Backes: I think just reflecting, I think also UCF has resources out there and trainings, you know, they have, Safe Zone trainings and other things like that, that student can take. They have Green Dot. There are things like that that you can just start to learn more. But I think it’s also just being more open with having conversations and not being scared to put yourself out there and have these honest conversations. We all start from someplace, right? I have tons of privilege in my life and, you know, there’s times where it’s hard to talk about my privilege or to be able to put it in place or really think about my privilege.
And it’s something I try to practice often to think about my privilege and how it applies to my projects, right? And the communities I work with, and not, putting my stuff on other people. I just think it’s a journey that people take, right? And so everyone starts somewhere and I think people get nervous to start, right?
James Evans: Mm-hmm.
Bethany Backes: It’s just like, kind of what we think about anti-racism. The same way, like, you get nervous because you don’t think you’re good enough and you get nervous you’re going to say something wrong or something, but messing up is also how we learn. and so I think sometimes that’s helpful is asking questions and wanting to learn and saying, “How can I do better? How can I change that?” And then adjusting that. I feel like some of the most prominent times or most profound times I’ve learned is just like messing up. and then someone’s like, you know, that’s not cool.
James Evans: Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes messing up or failing in a situation, is where you actually remember the lesson the best, right? When you’re trying to be an advocate and you realize that you actually may not have been as helpful in that situation as you should have been or could have been, that’s when you’re going to recognize and go, “OK, this is something I now have to make sure I know.”
It places that impetus of, “OK, I’m going to get my stuff together. I’m going to be aware and I’m going to conscious about it and I’m also going to do my best to understand.” And recognize that you’re still going to make mistakes. And I think that’s what we’re really lacking in society so often is A, being aware and trusting society enough to accept the conversation and to accept you as a part of that conversation. And then B, trusting other people to give you good or proper feedback in a way that’s not critical or overly harsh, but them being a good educator in that moment of giving you the feedback without giving you the criticism.
Bethany Backes: And not everyone can be good educator, right? Sometimes you really do offend people, right? sometimes it’s sitting with that and thinking about it. I think it’s very easy to be defensive.
James Evans: Yeah.
Bethany Backes: Then to sit and be like, “Oh wow, OK. I really messed up there.” Or, “I need to think about how I said that differently.”
And, when I have my classes, I mean, I love the dialogue. I see. Unless students hold each other accountable, when given the space to do so and they’ll have these hard conversations and I’ve seen so much learning happen, particularly in some of my domestic violence courses, just was really kind of changing thought pattern.
But, you know, you have to kind of moderate those situations and get people to think and be able to be open too, you have to be in a place to be ready too. I mean, becasue if you’re going to continue to be defensive, it’s not going to happen, but you also have to take ownership of what you did or didn’t do.
And I think we do that a lot with survivors and how we blame them. And you’re really trying to get away from that, that everyone might have an important experience. It might be different. It doesn’t make it any, less important to focus on.
James Evans: Absolutely. It’s really a multifaceted issue. And it requires a level of understanding that spans a course across multiple disciplines. We’re getting into this interdisciplinary idea here. Can you explain the, the importance of developing interdisciplinary groups like the Violence Against Women faculty cluster that we have here at UCF?
Bethany Backes: Well, first I’d just say our, I think our cluster is amazing group of scholars, dedicated to the topic and we all come from very different backgrounds and disciplines even. And think the idea of the clusters is really to engage in what they’ve been coining team science and thinking about one person alone can’t solve an issue in a silo. I can’t do the work I do without an incredible team working with me, right? That team is made up of academics. Yes, but it’s also made up of people from the community. It’s made up of survivors, all who offer a really important lens to getting something done. So that’s really the notion behind it. And especially for our cluster. It’s interdisciplinary, but it’s also community engaged.
So it’s important for us to have the voices of those impacted by the issues at some of the forefront of our work and that we’re engaged with community organizations here in Florida and survivor networks beyond Florida, right? Being able to do that means, one, you reach more people, but also you have more dialogue. It leads to more innovation really, because there might be something I do as a social worker that’s just ingrained in me, but then I hear it back from someone who’s working more in a community health setting and hearing about it that way could help. And then someone from criminal justice talks about this other layer and then what you have is just a very layered approach that does get at some intersectionality too.
James Evans: Mm-hmm.
Bethany Backes: Not just at the person level, but kind of broader than that on these topics. So I think that’s just so valuable, to have those different perspectives on these projects. And I applaud UCF for developing the clusters because there’s not a lot of universities out there that are doing such a kind of. Targeted approach to addressing some big problems.
James Evans: Yeah. Especially considering that it’s not only putting the faculty and researchers together in a room. And having them start working at a problem. But then it’s more than just the faculty and the researchers, it brings in that community. And that’s a whole second step that we’ve started to take. What does that look like when you’re bringing in different people who maybe don’t have the academic experience, but they have the professional or life experience to provide those new colors of context?
Bethany Backes: I would say it looks like fun. I think it’s fun. I mean, I just love, I just love doing this work with community folks, and it’s hard too. It’s fun and it’s hard, right? Definitely language barriers in terms of the terms I use and don’t use, but it’s awesome to be out there.
Like I went and presented to the Junior League of Greater Orlando areas and they really wanted to focus on housing. And they wanted to learn more about what happens to intimate partner violence, it was just a great presentation, discussion and some follow up stuff.
And so, it’s work. So we’re laying the groundwork, right? Reaching out, wanting to talk to people. And we also know that. There’s plenty of community based organizations and survivors and people in the field that have been burned by researchers before, right?
James Evans: Mm-hmm.
Bethany Backes: So researchers that, I won’t say are unethical, but just kind of get in, use their data, get out, use it and publish.
And I think one of the things we try to do is give back to our communities in different ways, whether it’s monetary, whether it’s something that be helpful to them, whether it’s a training, whether it’s looking at their data or helping them build something. And so it’s important to us that we have kind of a reciprocal relationship and that we’re building that.
And I think that’s important for us, right? One of the things I worked at the federal government was something we called our Researcher Practitioner Partnership program.
James Evans: Hmm, that a name.
Bethany Backes: I developed it and that’s really ingrained in, don’t try to say that one that’s really ingrained in my work as a social worker and really being community engaged. It’s really daunting to be able to take research and put it into language that can be understandable by other people. And so I think what we have is really amazing because not only are we doing that, but we’re also teaching students at all levels and other scholars how to do that. That gives them such great skills in going out there and learning how to work with communities, how to translate and disseminate information.
Yes, it’s important. I want to get tenure, right? I need to be publishing articles and scholarly journals and doing research, but at the same time, all of my stuff is also put out in other ways to be helpful to the field because if not, my stuff really isn’t helpful if it’s behind a firewall or a pay wall for these folks. They’re not going to want to read my scholarly article. They’re not, they don’t want to read 30 pagesof research and tables. You know, I can give them a two-page overview or do a presentation for them. Give them some real world information back to them that can help validate.
And a lot of times what we help them do is give them information then they can use to improve or validate, “Hey, this program we have is really working” Or, “Hey, if we want to try something new, this is how much it costs.” And they can try to go out for that, for extra grant funding and everything like that.
So I think ours is very cyclical on how we think about our research and then impacting some of the communities. And yeah, sometimes we’re just doing straight what we call bench science, where we’re in the lab or testing things and everything. But the mission is larger in terms of impacting the field and ways to do that is having lots of different minds involved in the work.
James Evans: Absolutely.
How do we provide that sort of framework and that mindset and showcase that for other institutions or, provide that ability for them to learn and grow and start developing their own versions of what we have?
Bethany Backes: Yeah. Well, I think part of it is just documenting what we’re doing and getting that out there. We also work with a lot of people at other institutions and so being able to share what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and I mean, some of the stuff I learned and what I do is from other institutions. I think we have the potential to be a model.
There are other centers that research and study gender-based violence and violence prevention. And we collaborate with them we all do equally important work. We also don’t want to set things as being a competition. Mm-hmm. Um, because that also can be really divisive in order to get to the end goal.
And so, we’ve had meetings with some of these other centers at other universities. I think it’s also, as you’re putting out students and working with students and putting out products, people start to see. what you’re doing. We’re out there putting our stuff out, looking for partners, collaborating and sharing the wealth
James Evans: Yeah, it’s being present. That’s the most important thing, being open and available to whatever opportunities come up. And specifically with students, how much access do they have to the program, to the cluster? How much are they a part of this? Because that’s so important, obviously, as you’ve talked about, they’re able to go out into the world and to the field and be those translators, be creators, innovators, impacters, across a whole field of things, right? And they carry forth that knowledge. So what does that look like as far as student engagement and student participation in the research?
Bethany Backes: Yeah, so I mean, it’s, been interesting the past few years with COVID and stuff, but there’s a lot of students here that are super interested in research. Like I, was amazed to see how many inquiries we get and so all of us work with students, whether they’re undergrad, master’s level, doctoral level medical students across all colleges.
I could tell you like my students, they’re not from any one discipline. I have, anthropology, I have biomedical sciences, I have clinical psychology. I have a biology student. And so, it’s interesting, but they, they want to do research and want to get research hours, but they’re also very interested in the topic, right?
James Evans: Mm-hmm.
Bethany Backes: I always tell them, I want you to be in the room where it happens, right? So I want them to be part of important conversations and discussions that we have when we’re making decisions.
I think them seeing how projects are run, is really helpful experience for them. Because I do hear a lot of students get out and they’re like, “Well I don’t know how to run the project. I did a bunch of stuff on the project, but I don’t know how this —” So we try to open up for them to be able to experience different aspects of the project that they want to experience.
I do goal setting with my students in terms of what do you want to accomplish here? lot of them might want to publication, they might just want to enhance certain skill sets, do different types of things, might actually want to do more applied work.
It’s pretty amazing to see them go on, like some of my students that I worked with at the federal level go on into these, careers, out into the field. Not all of them are grow academia like one of my students as an advocate and they’re, you know, doing other things. But it’s pretty cool to see.
James Evans: I appreciate that that is such a focus because that can be the difference maker for a lot of students for a lot of experiences. So we’re in our wrap up questions here. These are a lot more lighthearted.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do or be involved in higher ed or be involved with the Violence Against Women Research cluster?
Bethany Backes: If they’re at UCF, then reach out to us. We have a cluster website. Our emails are online. You can search us out and take one of our classes. A lot of us teach specifically on victimization courses.
There’s lots of other faculty outside of the cluster that do work like this on campus. So it’s not just us, you know, we’re a small group. We’re hoping to expand, and bring on additional affiliates, but we’re not the only folks at UCF that do work on violence or do work on some of these things that are connected to violence, like homelessness and housing and you know, economic insecurity and, so on.
So there’s a lot of people that are, or women’s equity or LGBTQ victimization or experiences. There’s a lot of people doing this different work. And we can also, if it’s not with us, help people find someone else.
James Evans: One last question. What’s one thing you’re still hoping to do?
Bethany Backes: Uh, retire. No, I’m just kidding.
James Evans: Isn’t that the goal for everybody? That is
Bethany Backes: No, I really want to do more internationally. I think there’s a lot of innovative things that are happening in other countries.
And I’d really like to learn from our international counterparts. I think that’s something important to me to explore kind of in this next phase as I get stuff done. I mean, ultimately I just want to — you know, it’s funny, I had this student interview like my first year here and he was like, “What do you want your legacy to be?”
And I was like, “Am I old enough to have a legacy or know what I want my legacy to be? I don’t think I’m old enough yet to like decide that.”
James Evans: Such a old, prominent question. I love it.
Bethany Backes: And I’m not looking necessarily for a legacy either. But yeah, I think definitely learning more from the international sense, from different folks that are doing this work.
And I think I’m like a lifelong learner, right? So there’s a lot of areas I still want to grow and learn and make sure I’m being kind of a good advocate and a good researcher and a good partner in my work. And so just continuing down that path. And then, I mean, being a good mom, that’s important. Just being a good human, mom, sister, daughter. Name all the different labels we have.
James Evans: Right.
Bethany Backes: That’s always important to me. I think that’s probably the more important job I have right now is, is being a mom.
James Evans: Of course. Thank you so much for being here. Your stories and your advice and your insight were really something to treasure and value.
Bethany Backes: Thank you. I appreciate having this opportunity to chat with you.
James Evans: I want to thank Dr. Backes for being on the show today. It’s important to have open, honest conversations about the many forms of violence and how we can address it as a community. I’ve taken away how important it is for those who have privilege to use it to serve our community compassionately.
Next time we’re talking with Dr. Stella Sung, who is the director of CREATE at UCF, a Pegasus professor and a trustee chair professor. As always, if you’re doing something cool, whether that’s at UCF or somewhere you took UCF that we should know about, send us an [email protected] and maybe we’ll see you on an episode in the future Go Knights. Charge On!
Stella Sung: It’s a great time to be at UCF and you know, we’ve got a huge, wonderful future ahead of us, our old slogan was Reach for the Stars, and I think we’re getting there.