Rutgers Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance hosts discussion groups to include men in conversations about violence, LGBTQ rights
The Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance is taking steps to help include men in the conversations on masculinity, homophobia and sexual assault by hosting a series of meetings dedicated to their discussion.
The string of gatherings, called “Knights’ Roundtable: Men’s Discussion Group," is being led by Prevention Education Coordinator Jean Semelfort, who was hired to the job just two months ago.
“Part of my position is our approach now to start to engage men in the conversation surrounding sexual assault ... intimate partner violence or just violence in general,” Semelfort said. “We need to include men in the movement of addressing homophobia or LGBTQ rights or queer community rights … not just women or people of the LGBTQ community.”
He said the importance of creating these bi-weekly meetings is to form a consistent safe space where men can engage in challenging conversations that may not be so easy to have other places on campus.
He said that sometimes men are not encouraged to ask genuine questions or even speak true to their experiences — if they do, they could very well be attacked for their ignorance on the subject.
“Imagine you share your story and then people are automatically defensive, or get angry,” Semelfort said. “You’re not going to want to engage in that conversation anymore. If anything, the lesson that you learn is, ‘Don’t ever bring this up,’ and so, then, any teachable moment that can come up — it’s already gone.”
The most important dialogues to have are often the ones that people are afraid and unwilling to talk about, meaning topics such as race, politics and religion, he said.
Another issue that is a priority for Semelfort and VPVA is to help men develop healthier ideas of masculinity.
Masculinity in a patriarchal society such as the one people live in today can be detrimental to everyone, including men themselves, he said.
“I don’t think (male) privilege comes without a price,” he said.
He said this price includes the repression of emotion, the expectation of aggressiveness and the degradation of women as harmful concepts of masculinity forced onto men from a young age.
In a world where men are so often the perpetrators of violence as a man, it is easy to get frustrated and not know how to express your voice without getting shut down, he said. That is what this group is for — to allow someone who does not commit such violence to talk about what it means to be blamed for it anyway.
“In these discussions we hope to support each other, as well as hold each other accountable,” according to the description on the first meeting’s Facebook event page.
Making sure men have a space to discuss issues surrounding masculinity, as well as ensuring that that space comes without the judgement piece are the key aims of these gatherings, Semelfort said.
Eric Weck is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. See more on Twitter @ericcweck.