By Abigail Faith
There is a new group coming to the College and it is bringing something different to the discussion of power-based violence: men. In a society where violence prevention is largely advocated for by women, the College’s Men’s Leadership Group is working to break down the walls of gender stereotypes and help men find their voice in a place where it is typically muted.
The Men’s Leadership Group was created in Fall 2014 after 2015 alumnus Chris Davis proposed the idea to Mark Woodford, a professor in the department of counselor education. According to Woodford, Davis was moved by a lecture on March 12, 2015, given by Jackson Katz, an anti-violence advocate who believes that violence against women is also a men’s issue.
Using his experience from coordinating the Circle of Compassion program, a group on campus in which members meet for lunch and discuss books that promote empathy, Woodford set out to create a judgement-free space for men to discuss ways to prevent power-based violence at the College.
“We wanted to make it an intergenerational discussion between people who identified as male and wanted to have a discussion about masculinity and leadership,” Woodford said. “Not laugh along with it, not remain silent, but stand up and create a pure culture where people were supporting being compassionate toward each other.”
At the same time that these ideas were being presented to Woodford, Michelle Gervasi, coordinator of Anti-Violence Initiatives on campus, noticed a deficit in male voices when it came to the subject of power-based violence. Women, it seemed, were more dominant in the discussion, which left men to sit silently on the sidelines, Gervasi said.
“What we discovered is that we, typically in our prevention work — we had conversations that put men on the defensive,” Gervasi said.
Gervasi also spoke about the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault launched by President Obama in 2014. After its conception, the Not Alone Report was released and focused on the idea that sexual assault is a large problem on college campuses. The task force attempted to establish different ways to guide leaders in the community and, in turn, help bring down victimization rates.
“You can tell men what not to do, but you have to give them something healthy to move toward,” Gervasi said.
Eventually, after receiving guidance from the White House, the Anti-Violence Initiatives and Circle of Compassion came together to create a meeting place for men.
Zach Gall, a co-facilitator of the group and a graduate student at the College, applauds the organization’s goals and feels passionately about his involvement.
“I’ve always felt kind of strongly that men aren’t engaged the way that can be most effective in the field, and so I really wanted to be part of something where we were trying to do it differently,” Gall said.
Like Davis, Gall was deeply moved by Katz’s lecture, which drew about 400 people to Kendall Hall that spring. About one month after hearing him speak, Gall contacted Gervasi to learn about clinical positions in the Anti-Violence Initiatives.
Along with Woodford, Gall helps organize the lunches for the group meetings that happen on most Fridays in the Brower Student Center. The group plans to meet 11 or 12 times throughout the semester, Gall said. Anyone who identifies as a male is welcome to participate in the luncheons. Some weeks, however, they hope to include female members of different clubs on campus for a panel discussion atmosphere, where the two groups can discuss ideas and open the conversation to both genders, Gall said.
Brian Garsh, who graduated from the College in December 2015, is also a key player in the Men’s Leadership Group. His first experience with Anti-Violence Initiatives and Circle of Compassion came when he was asked to be in their “1 is 2 Many” public service announcement (PSA). Adapted from the White House’s own campaign, the PSA focuses on the disturbingly high rates of sexual assaults on college campuses. Garsh is a graduate assistant who helps with logistical planning, advertising and coordinating the lunches.
All of the leaders in the group are optimistic and hope that it will make a difference on campus while also giving men a safe space to speak freely about their role in preventing the spread of violence.
“I think it’s really important to note that this isn’t just about the prevention of power-based personal violence,” Gervasi said. “It’s also about breaking down some of those gender stereotypes and allowing men to grow in a way that feels more consistent with being a human being as opposed to being a man with all of these societal expectations.”