Today, about 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Tony Porter, CEO of A CALL TO MEN, a national violence prevention organization, uses the term “man box” to get young men to start thinking about how they have been taught to define manhood — and the impact of that perception on their self-image and relationships.
“When you create space with men to have these discussions, we dive in and begin to break this down, but far too often, space is not created,” Porter explains. “That’s a big part of this initiative: to create space for men to come together.
For over two decades, the organization has sent trainers across U.S. college campuses to educate on healthy manhood and sexual assault prevention. The goal is to encourage young men to reflect on the messages they have received about gender and analyze how those messages have affected their view of manhood, women and girls. In March, the organization is slated to launch a custom toolkit — LIVERESPECT on Campus — to help student leaders create a campus culture of “respect, equity and value for all.”
A new approach to preventing sexual violence
Porter explains that collectively, boys are taught that men should not express emotions other than anger. Over time, that teaching desensitizes young men to women’s experiences and as a result, they do not take an interest in women’s perspectives. When they begin dating and having sex, this lack of emotional intelligence can lead to missed cues, not enough conversation about the other person’s wants and needs and an absence of respect for the opposite partner.
“We want to help boys be their authentic selves,” Porter says. “We believe the more we encourage healthy manhood, the more we can decrease violence against women and girls.”
According to the group, only about 19 percent of boys and young men entering college know what consent means.
Putting prevention in motion
RahK Lash, a longtime follower of A CALL TO MEN and the assistant director for multicultural affairs at Ithaca College in New York, explains this effort is as much about understanding how men think collectively as it is about appreciating each individual’s experience.
“Where I’m from — Greensboro, North Carolina — I had never had a conversation around manhood. I didn’t know I had a gender identity at that point,” he says. “From a prevention perspective, this is the first thing we have to understand: where our students are coming from.”
He decided to bring Porter’s ideals to Ithaca College in May 2015, launching several initiatives that promote healthy manhood and educate about what consent means. Among those efforts are creating a committee with his fellow colleagues to help prevent sexual violence on campus, sharing the toolkit with student leaders on campus, and spreading Porter’s message to on-campus organizations like Brothers 4 Brothers.
Brandon Tate, a sophomore majoring in TV and radio at Ithaca College, is a co-president of Brothers 4 Brothers, and says that from his perspective, preventing sexual violence on campus is about getting comfortable being uncomfortable. For him, a brighter future not just for women but for men, too, depends on having these tough conversations.
“The biggest thing is to start a conversation,” Tate says. “You won’t know how to take action until people’s thoughts are out on the table.”