Man Talk Workshop Provides Unique Space for Men to Discuss Sexual Assault

In an effort to address sexual assault and boundary violations on campus, Michael Bueno ‘18 and Women*s Center program coordinator Qui Alexander organized Man Talk last year. Man Talk was a facilitated workshop designed as a safe space for male-identifying members of the Haverford community to talk about how sexual assault and boundary violations apply on the college’s campus. This semester, there have already been several smaller discussions that have stemmed from Man Talk, and there are plans to organize another Man Talk workshop in the spring. Additionally, these issues are especially relevant in light of Sexvember, a month-long series of events hosted by the Women*’s Center focusing on sex- and sexuality-positivity throughout November.

Bueno stated that part of his reasoning for wanting to organize Man Talk was because Haverford suffers from “haver-exceptionalism,” which he described as ideas that falsely assume Haverford is somehow immune to problems such as sexual assault, boundary violations, discrimination, etc. He also added, “Haver-exceptionalism is a fallacy that results [from] important discussions not being had. Man Talk started as an effort to bring Haverford back into the national context of sexual assault/boundary violations being a reality here.”

Maurice Rippel ‘19 was one of several students who attended Man Talk. Rippel commented saying that his experience at the workshop was positive. “I just thought [Man Talk] was a great idea. I thought it was one of those things where everyone that identifies as a man should to go.” He felt the discussion challenged his pre-existing ideas regarding boundary violations, particularly regarding jokes or comments that could be considered sexist or offensive. “There were a lot of videos that we looked at, and it [drew attention to] some of the things we say… that might reinforce a certain type of [sexist] culture, and really asking ourselves ‘Is that the type of behavior we want to support?’” Rippel said he is now much more conscious of aware of what he says, and is more outspoken in calling out his peers’ insensitive jokes.

Several topics were covered during the Man Talk workshop. However, being a varsity athlete himself at the time, Bueno particularly wanted to discuss the national stigma surrounding collegiate athletes as being common perpetrators of these problems. He acknowledged that while male-identified people are not the only perpetrators of boundary violations on college campuses, they may often constitute the majority. This stigma is particularly prevalent at Haverford, where athletes tend to occupy many of party spaces on campus. Bueno stated that this view leads to a common perception in which some male athletes are immediately associated with these kinds of unacceptable behaviors.

This type of discussion on the college campus is particularly relevant in light of the scandal involving the Harvard men’s soccer team, in which the team members rated women on a scale of 1-10 and made explicit comments based on the team’s opinions of the women’s sexual appeal. Rippel mentioned that recalling the discussions had at Man Talk reminded him of the aforementioned scandal. He said that discussions like Man Talk are especially important to address these types of issues. “It takes one of us to really change the culture for our entire teams, and it really made me think about the Harvard men’s soccer team,” said Rippel. “How we really define the culture within our space, and what we allow and we we don’t allow… Ultimately you should never be afraid to stand up and call someone out for saying something that reinforces [a sexist] culture.” In regards to Haverford’s campus, Rippel said that he has had friends tell him about instances in which they attended a party hosted by a sports team, and ended up leaving feeling uncomfortable because of comments or actions made by another individual at the party. Both Bueno and Rippel found that Man Talk began to address this issue by encouraging sports team captains to lead by holding their team members accountable for what occurs in their social spaces. A couple of the smaller discussions that have taken place this semester have continued with this concept, following up with team captains and emphasizing being proactive as an outspoken leader for their teams.

The original workshop also focused on boundary violations involving “nice guys,” which often go unreported on college campuses. Bueno shared his view that in many situations involving males who believe themselves to be “nice guys” there tends to some gray area in terms of relating their actions with responsibility or culpability. In order to facilitate discussion about this topic, those in attendance read an article entitled “To the Men I Love, About Men Who Scare Me” and watched several videos produced by the #ThatsNotLove campaign. The article and videos addressed the “nice guy” concept by providing concrete examples of the discomfort and harm caused by sexual assault and boundary violations, even in the absence of malintention. Bueno explained that this gray area in understanding is largely due to a lack of productive discussion about these topics, especially among male-identified people. “We especially wanted to give guys in these situations the tools to self reflect in a healthy way that challenges themselves, even if it is uncomfortable,” said Bueno. Additionally, he emphasized that Man Talk sought to encourage men to take time to pause and evaluate the other’s perspective when engaging interpersonally. He said, “It is really easy to become blinded by one’s own good intentions, especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships.”

Since last year, Man Talk has evolved into a series of smaller discussion sessions that aim to bring together leaders of athletic teams. Bueno says that the primary goal of these discussions is to “[form] a united front that keeps [athletes] and those at their social spaces accountable.” It provides a unique space that allows males on campus to challenge each others behavior in a productive manner that is conducive to growth, rather than antagonizing one another and accomplishing nothing. By continuing to have regular discussions about these issues, Bueno and other supporters of Man Talk hope to challenge preconceived ideas of sexual assault and boundary violations, as well as encourage male-identified persons at Haverford to hold one another accountable for their actions.

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