This is the Power of Research

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Rhonda Nunley of South Shore, Ky, was 37 when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.  In an instant, her life changed. 

Initially withdrawn with her diagnosis, she shied away from being labeled as a cancer patient. But, motivated by her deep desire to be healthy for her kids, she sought treatment, and turned to UK’s Markey Cancer Center. Since the diagnosis, she’s received leading-edge care and has become a passionate advocate for awareness and effective treatment.

Cancer is a part of her life, but it doesn’t consume her life.

President Capilouto told this story four years ago as the UK Markey Cancer Center announced its designation by the National Cancer Institute.

It reminds us of a truth that transcends work across our campus: numbers are never just numbers; they represent human struggles. They represent the affliction of our brothers and sisters across the Commonwealth and the world, whose lives we have the power of touching.

These numbers exist across our campus, across our society. One of them, among many, hits me particularly hard.

22 million.

This figure, tainted by heartbreak, is the approximate number of women in the US who have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That’s one in five.

A recent study at UK, led by Ann Coker and Heather Bush in UK’s Center for Research on Violence Against Women (CRVAW), suggests that one in seven high school students in Kentucky experience physical dating violence, and that one in 11 have had unwanted sex because they were physically forced, or too intoxicated to give consent.

Again, these harrowing figures are not just statistics – these are real Kentucky teenagers, students in our communities whose lives are forever changed by sexual assault or dating violence.

These numbers—like numbers related to cancer— directly or indirectly touch us all.

It’s common for people to conceptualize research as taking place in a chemistry or biology laboratory. To be sure, the work we do in our labs across campus is helping us make breakthroughs that can prevent diseases or treat illnesses, like cancer. These discoveries have a human impact.

Efforts in the UK Center for Research on Violence Against Women (CRVAW) are also making important strides in fighting the scourges that impact Kentuckians—and our fellow people across the world. 

A recent study at UK, led by Ann Coker and Heather Bush in the CRVAW, looks at the effectiveness of what we call bystander intervention training programs. 

These programs, like the Green Dot program implemented on our campus, teach individuals how to recognize situations or behaviors that may become violent, and how to intervene to reduce the likelihood of violence.

Funded by the CDC, the study is the largest and longest randomized controlled trial of bystander training programs in the country focusing on sexual violence prevention in high schools. It followed 26 Kentucky high schools over the past five years.

Half of the schools were assigned to receive the Green Dot intervention, while the others, who did not receive training, served as the study's control group. Interventions were conducted by trained rape crisis educators. The Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs (KASAP) served as a community partner in the trial and covered the cost of Green Dot training for at least one staff at each regional center across Kentucky. By utilizing these existing resources, the schools encountered no additional costs to implement the program.

The study revealed that the implementation of Green Dot in Kentucky high schools decreased, not only sexual violence perpetration, but related forms of violence including sexual harassment, stalking and dating violence.

Sexual assault and violence against women is not inevitable; it can be and should be prevented. This study gives us data on how to effectively implement strategies to make progress in this area.

This is the power of research.

Human struggles, the agony and injustice of which words fail to express, can be addressed—potentially prevented or possibly eased—through this work.

It’s part of what makes us the University for Kentucky. We are the institution our Commonwealth has charged with confronting the most profound of challenges -- in education, economic development, health care, and cultural and societal advance. The problems for which numbers only tell part of the story.

It has been our mission for more than 150 years. And we will continue this work, together.

Timothy S. Tracy