Most colleges try to reduce sexual and domestic violence by educating women about how to stay safe and what to do if they’re ever victimized. But Southern Connecticut State University is trying a new approach.

The Men’s Initiative, a new program, seeks to educate male students about what they can do to stop male-on-female violence.

Years ago, the institution had a program called The Men’s Corner with a similar aim. But the program wasn’t very well thought-out and eventually went by the wayside.

The director of the Women’s Center approached Peter Troiano, the assistant vice president and dean of student affairs, about reviving the program. He hired Tyler Wentland, a graduate assistant, to make sure the initiative was more effective this time around.

Launched last fall, the Men’s Initiative is comprised of a variety of programming designed specifically for male students. The initiative is different from the earlier program in various important ways.

For instance, while it’s run out of the Women’s Center, it’s not run by women. “Men don’t like to be told how to be men,” Wentland explained. “Men need to hear it from other men.”

Also, Troiano recruited members of units across campus to collaborate so that the initiative could incorporate as many different components as possible.

Working with judicial affairs allows the program to address students who get in trouble for sexual or domestic violence. Collaborating with Greek groups allows it to address violence that can occur during fraternity parties. And reaching out to the athletics department allows the program to address student-athletes’ perceptions about what is and isn’t normal.

“Some young men may think that certain behavior is OK because our culture seems to normalize sexual violence,” he said. “For instance, you may see a commercial for a product that incorporates violence and not think for a second that you’re seeing violence because you’re simply seeing a commercial for a product.”

He pointed to a recent Dolce & Gabbana ad where a man’s holding a woman down by the throat and she’s struggling to get up.

“This kind of thing tells men that this is what makes you a real man and tells women that this is something you should come to expect,” he said.

Although the program’s main mission is educating male students about speaking out and acting in opposition to violence against women, it grabs students’ attention by offering health and wellness programs geared specifically for men.

“We just had a really successful yoga program,” Wentland said. “We marketed in a way that students understood it was geared specifically for men, and a lot of guys showed up.”

Such programming addresses sexual violence very indirectly, so students don’t feel they were tricked into attending. Attendees may talk about men’s health and wellness issues and negative stereotypes in popular culture, such as the Dolce & Gabbana ad. They’re also handed materials covering sexual and domestic violence, so they can educate themselves if they want to without feeling like they’re being force-fed the information.

Wentland was invited to various sections of a first-year experience course to talk about sexual and domestic violence. And he’s working on a peer education program where male students can talk to each other about sexual and domestic violence and what they can do to stop it.

For more information, contact Peter Troiano at troianop2@southernct.edu or Tyler Wentland at wentlandt1@southernct.edu.

Students who victimize women must help community

When a male student harasses or assaults a female student at Southern Connecticut State University, Tyler Wentland, The Men’s Initiative director, steps in. He makes sure the male learns something.

He gives the male student a list of nonprofits in the community. The student researches the organizations and chooses one to contact. (The organizations are aware students might contact them.)

The student must ask what the organization needs, such as clothing or nonperishable food. He must then organize a drive to meet that need.

“We want these students, instead of just being kicked off campus for a weekend or whatever, to give back to a community that has been affected by the type of violence they have committed or may end up committing,” Wentland said. “It’s a way to turn something negative into something good.”