Men’s discussion group tackles taboos

The recently founded men’s leadership program focuses on men’s role in violence against women.

by Katherine Lymn

A program aimed at scrutinizing menâÄôs roles in violence against women was founded last fall at the University of Minnesota and now holds weekly meetings that bring a group of men together to discuss masculinity issues and how they can cause sexual violence against women. The group is a part of the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education, which works to educate students on sexual assault in efforts to prevent it. Roberta Gibbons, Aurora Center associate director and menâÄôs program co-founder, said while the centerâÄôs programs are usually targeted at women, there has been some sort of menâÄôs program on campus for the past 10 years. However, the current MenâÄôs Leadership Group is the first concrete and organized one. âÄúWe had a menâÄôs group on campus on and off for almost a decade, [but] âĦ we hadnâÄôt really had anything stick,âÄù said Gibbons, who founded the group with Jill Lipski Caine, AuroraâÄôs violence prevention education coordinator. âÄúThis group seems to have more momentum than the groups in the past,âÄù Gibbons said. Student Coordinator and University chemistry and physics senior Keith Behrman said the group had a small attendance last year when it first started, but that there has been a solid attendance at each meeting so far this year. âÄúWeâÄôre just trying to get the word out right now and grow our user base on campus and basically just make sure men on campus that want to talk about these kind of things âĦ know that the group exists,âÄù Behrman said. To recruit members, Behrman said he will visit classes with subjects related to the groupâÄôs discussions, such as gender and womenâÄôs studies and family social science classes, as well as unrelated courses. âÄúIâÄôll probably try to branch out and get people from different parts of the community,âÄù Behrman said. The menâÄôs discussions range in subject from mediaâÄôs portrayals of women to each manâÄôs personal life experiences, Behrman said. âÄúItâÄôs just a place where men can come and talk about what it means to be a man, the definitions of masculinity and how sexual violence against women is perpetrated,âÄù Behrman said. Behrman said the group has also protested appearances on campus, such as that of notoriously misogynistic author Tucker Max, and may look into advocating for the campus Radisson Hotel to be a âÄúclean hotelâÄù âÄî one without pay-per-view porn available. âÄúSociety kind of makes it so men canâÄôt talk about these [masculinity issues]; itâÄôs not socially acceptable,âÄù he said. Behrman added that while the meetings can sometimes produce awkward silences, he sees this as âÄúpart of the processâÄù of discussing such issues. âÄúAt first some people can be timid but most people usually are talking,âÄù he said. The group is made up of student participants and University staff mentors. Territorial Hall Residence Director Brett Chin has been a mentor with the group since last fall. He said his role is to facilitate the conversation rather than direct it. âÄúA lot of times IâÄôm just there observing and more as guidance [rather] than [as] the lead person,âÄù Chin said. Group organizers hope the groupâÄôs efforts take effect in everyday life. âÄúHopefully they [men] spread [what they learned] out among other men but also learn to step up at times when theyâÄôre at a bar and they see a man feeding shots to a woman to try to get her drunk to have sex with her,âÄù he said. âÄúIf you teach one person then theyâÄôll teach two people.âÄù