UTK 'Men's Project' combats 'culturally defined masculinity'

Students at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville recently launched a new group to fight “culturally defined masculinity” because it can “hurt our boys and men.”

Led by Don Black, a senior studying Business Analytics, the school’s Men’s Project hosts events, discussions, and film screenings to encourage students to “talk about what it’s like to be a man” in hopes of reducing “sexual violence” on campus.

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Black was first introduced to the idea that masculinity causes violence during an event hosted by UTK three years ago, during which scholar-activist Jackson Katz spoke about the link between masculinity and violence.

Inspired by Katz’s talk, Black began a deep-dive into into the academic theories that link masculinity to violence, saying that “after many articles, books, and conversations with friends and mentors later, the Men’s Project was born.”

In an interview with Campus Reform, Black explained that he launched the program because he wanted to help reduce sexual assault on campus. While he was quick to note that not all types of masculinity can be linked to violence, he maintained that some can.

This is why it is important to “encourage different types of masculinity” on campus, explained Black, who sees “culturally defined masculinity” and “toxic masculinity” as two varieties that particularly lend themselves to sexual assault.

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To that end, the Men’s Project has focused its programming on addressing violence. One event last semester, for example, explored how “masculinity in fraternity culture” can lead to embodiments of “toxic masculinity.” Another event featured a screening of The Mask You Live In, a film that claims boys are taught to “objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence.”

With roughly 20 active members, the club already has a base of support on campus, and Black said that the highest turnout last semester was for the screening of The Mask You Live In, which saw more than 130 students and professors attend.

Since it’s still the beginning of the semester, Black says he hasn’t figured out exactly what type of events the club will offer next, but says he’s definitely planning on hosting at least a few.

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Unlike Men’s Projects seen at other colleges, this one is unique in that it was founded directly by a student and not a school administrator. The group does, however, receive advisorial support from Fletcher Haverkamp, a “Sexual Violence Prevention” coordinator at the school. Havercamp did not respond to a request for comment from Campus Reform.

Ultimately, Black says he hopes that reforming masculinity will help reduce violence against women, saying, “I think that addressing some of the negatives of culturally defined masculinity has many positives, including improving the lives of men, women, and their relationships.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen