Billed as a “train the trainer” type event, men were invited to not only participate in a Male Gender Identity and Leadership workshop that addresses sexual assault on the Waterloo campus, but also to become change agents. “The idea is that these young men will take the skills and tools they learned today, and be equipped to recognize and fight against gender inequality and rape culture wherever they are – in classrooms, in workplaces, and in society,” added Ed. Running the workshop was Lexi Salt, the GreenHouse Program Coordinator at St. Paul’s University College on campus, and Stephen Soucie, the Male Allies Program Coordinator at the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region.
The inspiration to have a male gender identity and leadership workshop stems from the University of Waterloo’s commitment to the UN Women’s HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 campaign. HeForShe is a global effort to engage men and boys in removing the social and cultural barriers that prevent women and girls from achieving their potential and together positively reshaping society. As an expression of the College’s mission to pursue justice and peace, Grebel’s participation in HeForShe with this workshop aims to make a larger community impact through the immediate and future leadership responsibilities of the participants.
Delving deep into gender stereotypes through rich conversation about what it means to be a man, addressing common stereotypes of men in movies and sports, and examining language used to describe women, participants became aware of their own misconceptions. The facilitator explained how important it is to be aware of these narratives in order to resist them.
“It’s really awesome to just sit in a room with other guys and talk about this stuff openly,” noted Jeremiah McCLeary. These open conversations about sometimes-taboo topics helped students realize that they were not alone in their questions and insecurities.
Participants also learned about sexual violence and rape myths. Fourth year student Richard Cunningham added “it’s important to have issues of sexual and gender violence brought to the forefront. There is a lot that men can do to improve the safety of all individuals on campus: be aware, realize how common it is, and learn how to prevent it.”
At the end of the afternoon, the men took part in a design challenge, addressing the question “what might we as men create for Grebel students to help create a more gender equitable culture at Grebel?” With tons of ideas, the groups narrowed their ideas down to a few feasible initiatives for the next few years and made plans to turn their ideas into reality.
Students appreciated that in this safe space they not only learned important theory, but also learned how to apply it to themselves and their community. Students remarked that they felt invigorated and were excited to move forward and take action on issues of gender and inequity.
“Being part of this workshop was a way in which I came to understand the prevalence of rape culture and the critical role that men have to play in challenging this culture,” reflected Matthias Mostert, first year Peace and Conflict Studies student. “It’s important to develop a healthy masculinity and to include men as leaders in the feminist movement for create gender equity.”