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Student's Poem Shines Spotlight On Domestic Violence

Berea College student Kit Cottrell’s poem, “The Alpha-Beta of Abuse,” will be performed at Until the Violence Stops: Kentucky, a two-week event in August that draws attention to and seeks to end violence against women.

Berea student Kit Cottrell and her son Lane.

Cottrell’s poem will be included in one of the marquee events, “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer,” which features actors' performances of poems and works by such writers as Howard Zinn, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou and Kimberly Crenshaw. Eighty percent of the material slated to be read comes from well-known authors, and only twenty percent has been drawn from local submissions such as Cottrell’s. The reading will take place at the Singletary Center for the Arts in Lexington, Ky., on August 19.

Cottrell is a non-traditional student who is majoring in English with a writing emphasis. She grew up in Lexington, Ky. Cottrell’s journey to Berea College was a long one; in 2000, Cottrell left her six-year domestic violence marriage “with two kids and not much else.” To support her family, she lived in government housing and worked at a catering firm, sometimes for shifts as long as 23 hours, and also cleaned houses for extra income.

The first summer after ending her marriage, Cottrell received a brochure in the mail addressed to “Occupant.” In that envelope, she found information for the New Opportunity School for Women located in Berea, Ky. The program offered classes and resources for low-income, middle-aged women in periods of transition in their lives.

“It seemed perfect, as I was then a women with no career skills, two kids and in my forties,” says Cottrell.

However, the program did not offer sufficient childcare facilities, and Cottrell decided she would not be able to participate while caring for her children. She received the same pamphlet the following year, and was again unable to go. The year after that, a government employee urged Cottrell to go the easier route and apply to Berea College. Cottrell was accepted to Berea and moved to the Ecovillage in 2003, beginning school that fall.

Even after her acceptance to Berea, Cottrell still had obstacles to overcome. The father of Cottrell’s son suffered a stroke during Cottrell’s freshman year, causing Cottrell to travel between Lexington and Berea frequently in order to care for him; Cottrell’s mother fought cancer in Cottrell’s second year; and in her third year, Cottrell’s best friend since the age of 17 passed away. This past fall, Cottrell’s mother died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. Despite these tragedies, Cottrell held strongly to her academic life at Berea College, although she was sometimes stretched to her limits.

“It has really increased the pressure of attending such a high-maintenance school,” says Cottrell, “but I wouldn’t quit for anything.”

As for the college itself, “It has definitely been a growing experience!” Cottrell states. “It has also been the most challenging task I have ever undertaken in my life. I think that’s what makes it worth it, actually. … I have had many wonderful professors, met lots of new people, as well as had the wonderful opportunity to soak up fresh ideas in a stimulating learning environment.”

One example of that learning environment was the short-term class that inspired Cottrell’s poem: “I Said No! – Exploring Healthy Relationships From a Sociological and Theatrical Perspective,” taught by Professors Jill Bouma and Deborah Martin. The class was a service-learning course designed to increase understanding and awareness of gender issues, with topics ranging from healthy relationships to date rape. As part of their service-learning, the students in the class wrote and performed skits, vignettes and poems for the residence halls around campus, working to spread information and knowledge about gender issues. Cottrell’s poem, “The Alpha-Beta of Abuse,” sprang from those creative efforts.

“The idea was simple enough, as there are books out on A-Z issues for everything from Appalachia to Zoology,” explains Cottrell. “I thought the format would work well for a poem that could be read by a large group to an audience.”

The poem is separated into alphabet-based stanzas such as:

N stands for No
to control of my life; it’s
my body, my money.
I do mind the matter.
You see, I am informed.
I don't consent to batter.


And

X is for X-rays
of bones broken, and human
flesh battered, lives tattered
and torn into pieces
and patches of little
fragile scraps that are scattered.


Cottrell decided to submit the piece to Until the Violence Stops after Deborah Martin notified aspiring writers and actors that the program was looking for submissions.

“It’s actually pretty amazing to me,” says Cottrell of her poem being accepted. “I still haven’t had time to digest all its meaning to me. Of course, I am more than proud to be contributing to this all-important issue of violence directed at women.”

In the future, Cottrell says, “I hope to continue writing. However, I have a nine year old who needs mom to get employment!” Cottrell also hopes to work on issues pertaining to Appalachia and pursue employment involving writing and photography. “I would like to stay here in Berea,” Cottrell adds. “It feels like home to me.”

In terms of advice for other Berea students, Cottrell says, “All I can address is my own life, and in my life I have found that if I don’t give up or give in and keep at it persistently, then eventually I will attain my goal, as well as grow in the process of the struggle. After all, it took me 46 years to get to college, but here I am!”

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