A Good Man Shouldn't Be Hard to Find

Aline Jesus Rafi

By Aline Jesus Rafi

Since I started working at Emory as the coordinator of sexual assault prevention education and response in 2007, I have strived to include men in violence-prevention initiatives on campus.

Call it misguided enthusiasm or high levels of self-assurance, but I naively anticipated that men on campus would be lining up to join as part of a noble mission actively to become a part of the solution and reduce the incidence of gender-related violence on our campus and beyond.

Needless to say, I was overly idealistic. Engaging men in this conversation has been a big challenge, and many plans have not succeeded as expected. Aside from some loyal male allies in Campus Life, efforts such as inviting men to serve in the Sexual Assault Consortium, to become members of the Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), to organize and attend Take Back the Night, and to help identify male speakers to present on campus have resulted in a disappointing lack of interest. Although I am thankful to the committed allies I have found along the way, one population in particular has been especially resistant: male students. Mind you, that is exactly half of the population I am charged with reaching, educating, and serving.

Every year I see evidence of what eventually could be a phenomenal movement of men committed to change. Since fall 2007, some male students have been active members of ASAP. One of them, Mike Levy 11C, is going for his second term as part of the organization’s executive board. In fall 2007 and spring 2008, several members of the fraternity Kappa Sigma joined me and other colleagues in several conversations about the role of men in ending sexual violence—culminating in their participation in a statewide college symposium on sexual assault. Unfortunately, as the involved seniors graduated, interest waned.

During fall 2008, then senior and SGA senator Wesley Pickard 09C coordinated a basketball tournament to raise funds for sexual assault prevention education programs and services. Wesley was committed to the cause and able to recruit many leaders on campus. With strategic planning and collaboration from students, faculty, and staff, he was able to host a successful event that included education and, yes, fun. Wesley anticipated that the event would be held annually and improve each year. However, without a clear successor for Wesley, his vision could not be sustained, and future basketball tournaments are currently on hold.

Sexual violence is not a woman's issue; it affects everyoneHow can we, as a community, encourage and support men to be central, indispensable allies in our efforts to prevent violence against women? After all, if the great majority of men are not violent, why wouldn’t they be willing and eager to join this vital movement? If men surely have important women in their lives, why wouldn’t they speak loudly and often against the perpetuation of gender-based violence? The absence of men in these conversations and educational events is telling and alarming; much work is yet to be done.

We cannot challenge and transform the culture without the participation and involvement of all its members. If we are to embody the real meaning of a “community of care,” it is up to each one of us in the community to be part of the process and be actively engaged activists against gender violence. Sexual violence is not a women’s issue; it affects everyone.

But what does it mean to be actively engaged? It means vigorously to denounce sexual violence, to go beyond the role of bystander and take active steps to prevent and decrease the incidence of violence in our community. It also means to educate ourselves and others along the way and nurture a community that is truly intolerant of any type of violence. We will know that we are succeeding when survivors are respected rather than doubted, when they are not afraid to come forward and are certain that positive support will be readily available, when lectures and workshops about sexual violence and violence prevention are fully attended, and when recruiting men to serve as allies is not a daunting task.

Plans to reach out and educate men in our community, with a particular focus on students, will continue this fall. However, instead of guest speakers and large-scale events, the hope is that an informal, men-only discussion group will emerge.

During this past summer, I and the anticipated group leader, Residence Life Area Director Ben Perlman, met to discuss recruitment and learning objectives for this group. The goal is to provide a safe space to cultivate communication and build a core group of engaged student leaders who can serve as role models and recruiters to foster men’s role as positive agents of nonviolent change in our community. Response from staff allies has been positive, and a list of possible members slowly has emerged; many more men are needed.

I hope the group will provide men on campus with an opportunity to learn and voice concerns in an informal environment. This is the perfect time to show your support and commitment to the eradication of violence against women. You can start the journey by joining the men’s discussion group.

Aline Jesus Rafi is the coordinator of sexual assault prevention education and response at Student Health and Counseling Services. She coordinates prevention education on campus and provides crisis intervention and assistance to Emory students affected by sexual violence.