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New UM initiative will focus on evidence-based solutions for school safety, gun violence prevention

red lockers in a close up shot
A new multi-disciplinary center at the UM School of public health will provide free evidence-based training for reducing violence in schools.


In the wake of multiple mass school shootings in recent years, the question of how to reduce violence and make schools safer has become a pressing one. Answering that question will be the goal of a brand new national research and training center at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

The university received $6 million from the U.S. Department of Justice to fund the center for three years. It will connect experts and researchers across disciplines to develop best practices and training around school safety. 

Justin Heinze is co-director of the new center. He's also an assistant professor of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Heinze says the school safety training offered by the center will be tailored to each individual district's needs and challenges. All the training and support, whether online or in-person, will be free of cost. It will cover multiple issues, from dating violence to firearm safety. That's why, Heinze says, the center's advisory board is made up of people from diverse fields of study. 

“We are going to be working directly with individual schools, looking at their unique contexts. So we need all those voices all around the table, all those different voices that will help us implement with the best fidelity," he said. 

Nicole Hockley is part of the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, one of the key partners of the center. Hockley was thrust into the role of an advocate for preventing gun violence when her son Dylan died in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. 

The mission of the Sandy Hook Promise is, “to deliver a future where no student ever experiences the devastation of a school shooting whether it’s direct experience or the ripple effects of tragedies as these go across the country,” Hockley said.

Hockley hopes the new center can help schools can find sustainable and evidence-based solutions to school violence. She believes efforts that target young students will plant seeds of change for the future.  

“You don’t change the behavior of a country in a year because this is about belief systems, this is about the way we are with each other and what we do,” Hockley said. "And social change takes time, so everything has changed since Sandy Hook. It‘s perhaps on a slower timeline than I would like, but it has been incremental change.” 

This post was written by production assistant Catherine Nouhan.

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