This weekend the Georgetown University Law Center hosted Campus Strength D.C., a two-day training event meant to facilitate discussion about stereotypes of strength and masculine power, as well as the effects these ideals have on society.

Students, faculty and staff representing colleges and universities across the country, including The George Washington University, University of Kentucky, Vanderbilt University, and Washington and Lee University attended the event, which was sponsored by Men Can Stop Rape, an international advocacy organization that seeks to create cultures free from violence, especially violence against women.

According to Joseph Vess, consulting and training director for Men Can Stop Rape, the program aims to provide a way for men to redefine old ideas of male strength to create a more inclusive, healthy culture.

“Many men are finding that traditional masculinity is not working for them,” he said. “The old masculine ideal, of always acting `tough,’ staying emotionally distant, not being able to have healthy relationships with other men – it really creates a negative effect on a society.”

The two-day event consisted of training modules and activities designed to encourage creative and independent thought regarding societal norms of masculinity, the consequences of those norms and ways to revise them in order to effect positive cultural change. During one module, called Real Man/Strong Man, participants focused on the way that prominent political and cultural figures create potentially harmful notions of masculinity, and then worked to create stories to counteract those notions.

“We looked at figures like [Arnold] Schwarzenegger in `Conan the Barbarian,’ which shows an ideal male being violent, muscular . and then we came up with our own examples, strong men we know in our own lives,” Jared Watkins (COL ’11), a founding member of GU Men Creating Change who attended the event, said. “We developed an ideal centered around truth and honesty, and being comfortable with praising others . rather than devaluing them, or always seeing them as competition.”

The training also included logistical support and information for college Men Creating Change programs, which act as campus liaisons for Men Can Stop Rape. A Georgetown chapter, GU Men Creating Change, was formed in October 2008.

Vess, who is working closely with the Georgetown chapter, expressed hope that the initiative would expand. He noted that, despite its short existence, GU Men Creating Change already has a strong core membership and broad plans for the future.

“Our goal is to engage men in playing an active role by changing the culture on campus,” Vess said. “We want a culture where men can actively support a woman’s role in society.”

GU Men Creating Change has worked closely with similar advocacy groups and support organizations on campus, including United Feminists, the Student Health Center and the Student Commission for Unity.

“The idea isn’t to isolate ourselves,” Vess said. “But we want to create an atmosphere where men can talk freely about these topics.”

Last semester, GU Men Creating Change sponsored a discussion on male and female cultural norms with Take Back the Night. Later this year, the group will perform community service during 25 Days of Service.

Watkins stressed the importance of expansion to in order to continue to attain the group’s goals.

“Right now, we want to be reaching out to different types of men,” he said. “We want to talk to men who don’t usually have these kinds of discussions.”

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