White Ribbon Campaign at FSU: Week-long campaign aimed at raising awareness about gender-based violence

White ribbons are displayed outside May Hall. (Photo by Brad Leuchte)

The White Ribbon Campaign came to the FSU campus for a week-long series of events to raise awareness about gender-based violence.

White Ribbon, according to the campaign’s website, is the “world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls, promote gender equity, healthy relationships and a new vision of masculinity.”

Founded by a group of men in Canada, the campaign strives to encourage men and boys of all ages and demographics to take a personal pledge to never condone or commit violence against women. In order to show solidarity, pledge participants wear a white ribbon around their communities.

SGA Vice President Ezequiel De Leon said, “The White Ribbon Campaign is an organization with the mission of ending violence against women by redefining masculinity in a more compassionate way.”

The campaign aims to help men challenge the notion of manhood and modernize it through different strategies and practices to create equality amongst all. Many of the events held on campus over the past week aimed to achieve the same goal and give men on campus the tools they need to make a change.

This is not the first year the White Ribbon Campaign has been brought to the FSU campus community. In 2014, several campus organizations, including FSU LiveSafe, Veterans Services and Wellness Education came together to encourage men to take the pledge.

Daniel Costello, president of SGA, said, “[in 2014], Tim Owens, clerk in the Financial Aid Office, approached SGA with this idea … I was the SGA vice president at the time and volunteered to work with Tim to organize an event around National White Ribbon Day.”

As a result, they had a table in the McCarthy Center lobby for men on campus to take the pledge.

“I hope that by expanding this campaign that we are raising awareness of these issues and have students take a stand against ending such violence,” said Costello.

De Leon said that when he was first asked to take on the task of planning the White Ribbon event, he, like many, was uninformed on the topic.

“I went to Kim [Dexter], she gave me some stats and other information and we decided to make a committee. We sat down, and immediately had all kinds of ideas,” he said. 

On Thursday, a pledge table was placed in the lobby of the McCarthy Center encouraging men to get information on gender-based violence and sign the pledge to take action. De Leon said the table was popular all day and was definitely successful.

“Before this, I was so blind to this stuff happening on our own campus. I didn’t know that four of my own friends, who just this week revealed to me, were victims of this sexual violence,” he said. He hopes that the message will be long-lasting on the FSU campus.

Along with the pledge table, several additional events were added to the roster to bring not only awareness but to bring action to the campus community.

The FSU Police Department, in partnership with the Student Government Association, hosted a self-defense class on Wednesday evening, open to all students and faculty. The Dean’s office hosted a Brave Space Training on Monday afternoon, as well as a Bystander Intervention Training on Tuesday. 

These events all work to encourage students to stand up and fight back against violence through education, awareness and action.

Additionally, the week featured two film screenings, highlighting the stereotypes facing men and the epidemic of sexual violence cases being brought to college campuses across the country.

In collaboration with students from the initiative Brother to Brother, De Leon led a discussion on the state of manhood after a screening of the documentary, “The Mask You Live In,” Monday night in the Center for Inclusive Excellence.

The documentary, provided by Health Services, attempted to analyze the meaning of manhood by discussing a range of topics and issues some men face on a regular basis.

From the challenges of growing up in a fatherless home, to the rampant hypermasculinity displayed in a culture that promotes violence and the objectification of women, the 97-minute documentary focuses on explaining society’s targeted definition of a “real” man.

For sophomore Jackson Stevens and junior Yaw Boateng, the film had relevance in their own lives.

“It ended up being much more reflective of my upbringing, especially being that my dad left early on,” Stevens said in the discussion after the screening. “I thought I was over some of those dad issues, but I think they’re much more underlying than my mind is telling me.”

Boateng agreed and detailed how he had a strained relationship with his own father who initially didn’t come to Massachusetts when Boateng moved with his family.

Boateng said that because he lacked a father figure in his life, he started to believe that he needed to get into fights to show his masculinity. He said he forgot some of what his father had taught him – that his accomplishments made him a man, not his fists.

“While having him away, I got into a lot of fights, a lot of trouble,” Boateng said.  “So when he came back, that started to lessen and I started to think that my achievements became my source of masculinity.”

Fernando Rodriguez, a senior and the co-founder of Brother to Brother, said men just don’t talk to each other because of deeply ingrained gender norms that devalue men who express their wide range of emotions. As a result, real deep conversation are rarely had, Rodriguez said.    

“Because we don’t talk about it, we think we’re alone in it,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll go, we’ll meet up with a bunch of other guys who feel the exact same way, act out the same way but we don’t know what they’re going through because we don’t talk about these things. …  The only emotion we express is anger, disappointment, that kind of being upset and that’s the only one we’re physically OK with.”    

When De Leon asked the small group how the film related to the White Ribbon Campaign, Rodriguez argued that deeply ingrained gender biases in male language is a major factor in the way men see women.

De Leon related Rodriguez’s comments back to how men’s resilience towards femininity creates a system where men see themselves in a higher position than women.

“When we belittle everything that’s feminine like Fernando said, we are creating that hierarchy and putting men on top and women below, and creating that culture that allow men to take that power and to abuse women,” De Leon said.   

Chantel Forbes, a senior, said, “I really liked how it brought to light some things that are hidden by norms of society, like the actual effect of added pressure on boys and men to be tough and masculine.”

Stevens said, “I went in with no expectations and left revived. It had me reflecting on my relationship with my father. The documentary helped a lot with understanding some more complex issues I deal with that relate to my dad.”

On Thursday evening, the documentary “The Hunting Ground” was screened followed by a discussion on rape culture on college campuses, specifically here at FSU.

The documentary, which originally screened at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, for which Lady Gaga wrote and recorded the original song “Til it Happens to You,” highlights multiple powerful, first-hand accounts of sexual assault and rape on college campuses around the country.

It follows the journey of Andrea Pino and Annie E. Clark, University of North Carolina alumnae and campus rape victims, as they attempt to make a map of universities across America where campus related sexual assault was being overlooked by school administrations and local authorities.

The documentary stressed the correlation between college athletes and sexual assault, as well as the physical effects of PTSD on victims or survivors. The main focus of the documentary was how and why these instances were being ignored by school administrators.

The documentary prompted a panel discussion. Panelists Melinda Stoops, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students, Kim Dexter, Title IX coordinator and director of equal opportunity, Ilene Hofrenning, director of the health center, Sgt. Karen Nicholas, a campus police officer and Tasha Bjork, a representative from Voices Against Violence, addressed student concerns about sexual assault at FSU.

Topics highlighted in their discussion were the results from last year’s sexual assault survey, options about how to handle and report these incidents and how to recognize instances of relationship violence and abuse.

When discussing the large percentage of students who allow these incidents to go unreported, Stoops said, “As we look at the White Ribbon Campaign, part of it is to support people in coming forward, even in a confidential way.”

Adding to this, Dexter said, “While we have these reporting avenues available, the focus is always on the care and support of the victim or survivor.”

They also discussed some cases in which victims remain with their abusers for long periods of time and how to prevent this from happening.

Bjork said, “I’ve had clients for an entire year now that are still with their abusers.”

The panel discussed reporting options which included going to the hospital to have forensic evidence collected, even if the victim or survivor does not plan on pressing charges.

Discussing last year’s survey results, Hofrenning said, “The experiences we have at the Health Center match the survey results. Most people who come in for a sexual assault don’t want to report it. The most common thing is that they just want to forget it happened.”

De Leon said, “This campaign could never have been possible without the support of the students who served on SGA’s White Ribbon Campaign Committee, including Beck Govoni, JT Manozzi, Maddie Alper and Cam Zamagni.”

He added, “It could not have been possible without the support of clubs such as Brother to Brother and SUAB, and it most certainly would not have been possible without the help of different offices and administrators such as Health Services, the Center for Inclusive Excellence, FSUPD, Facilities, The Dean’s Office, and Kim Dexter.”

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