Health Services has formalized a program for men to talk with other students about sexual violence on campus, with 13 students trained as peer educators this year.
Men’s Peer Education, founded in 2005, works to facilitate discussion of sexual violence issues with other student organizations on campus, but before this year the program ran in a much more informal way.
“What we’ve done more recently is try to create more formal roles,” Gaurav Jashnani, the program’s coordinator, said.
The addition of the trained educators and the organized meetings with other clubs are meant to expand the reach of the program. “We’re trying to touch all men and all students in the community. We want to touch all men who may not be impacted or engaged with the current efforts we have,” Karen Singleton, director of the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Program, said.
Reaching out to men is essential to prevent violence, she said. “If you think about the root causes of sexual violence and rape culture and the system that contributes to sexual violence, that’s something Men’s Peer Education is really working to address.”
She added, “What we’ve found is that there are ways men can engage other men around these issues that are particularly helpful and particularly facilitating of change.”
Erik Nook, CC ’12, first joined the program informally his junior year and was trained as an educator this year.
He recalled seeing students at the group’s discussions who all of a sudden “have a giant light bulb go off in their mind and think, ‘Oh my goodness, I just learned that when I did this thing, that was not the right thing to do,’” he said.
Part of that work involves holding workshops with fraternities. “It’s a partnership that makes sense because they want to show that they are invested in demonstrating that they’re service-oriented and they’re upholding their own mission,” Nook said. “And our mission is to engage men in ending sexual violence.”
Justin Feit, CC ’14 and a brother of Sigma Phi Epsilon, said that the work Men’s Peer Education has done with his fraternity has been valuable. “I felt that it was extremely important to get the messages associated with Men’s Peer Health across the Columbia campus, and the first place I chose was my fraternity.”
The group is in the process of rolling out its poster campaign “I Am Not An Anomaly.” Nook, who helped develop the campaign, explained that the posters aim to “encourage students to question norms of masculinity and to inform students that Men’s Peer Education is a space where they can explore.”
He believes that smaller campaigns and initiatives will ultimately affect culture and lead to more “lightbulb moments.”
Jashnani said, “I think part of what we really envision is building a cross-section of campus so that people can really see other students they see as their direct peers, people who look like them, people who share their experiences.”