Aspiring business owner Keosha Spikes, 22, was only months away from exiting the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with a degree in business management when she was shot dead by her boyfriend in January 2008, putting her promising future to an all-too-tragic end.

Less than one month later, junior UL Lafayette nursing student Tonya Major, 21, died after suffering multiple gunshot wounds inflicted by her boyfriend at his Lake Charles home.

Students gathered to honor the lives of these and other victims of domestic violence in a special ceremony and forum Wednesday night, which included the unveiling of a bench dedicated in Spikes’ memory and a panel discussion at the Student Union’s Bayou Bijou auditorium.

“She was part of the university,” said Jillian Hawkins, president of the Theta Xi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, during a special ceremony and ribbon-cutting of the bench where Spikes’ name is now engraved.

“Her dream was to own her own business,” Hawkins explained, “so when the opportunity came to purchase a bench in front of Moody Hall, fortunately, the National Pan-Hellenic Council answered the call.”

Spikes’ sorority sisters began the forum “Justice for Spikes…The Prophecy Continues” last year to spread awareness about domestic violence. This year, the National Pan-Hellenic Council stepped forward to provide funding for the bench, which is located in front of the business department’s Moody Hall on Hebrard Street.

At the question-and-answer session in Bayou Bijou, panelists involved with the forum provided useful information about domestic violence, including warning signs and ways for victims to receive help.

“Females 18-24 have been labeled as the greatest risk factor for being abused by an intimate partner,” said panel participant Reginald Mosely to an audience of more than 50, most of which claimed to have either personally experienced or to know someone who’s been victimized by an abusive partner. Mosely works closely with young men in the community through the Real Men program, which travels to local schools to raise awareness about domestic violence.

Women suffering from an abusive partner can seek help through the legal system, said Francesca Hamilton-Acker of Acadiana Legal Services, a non-profit law firm that provides legal aid to those who can’t afford it. Although a restraining order is only a piece of paper, she said, it’s a major step in gaining protection in an abusive situation.

Another option is to seek refuge at a local shelter like Faith House, said Brandy Walker, transitional housing manager for the local women’s organization. Volunteers and coordinators for the Faith House see to it that women seeking shelter can continue living as normally as possible.

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