Male students from the University of Massachusetts took the court at half time of the UMass men’s basketball game against St. Bonaventure on Wednesday night as part of the White Ribbon Campaign to end violence against women.
The students stood shoulder-to-shoulder along the sideline, many of them sporting the colors of their respective Greek life organizations, and repeated the pledge given by Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan and Isenberg School of Management lecturer Steve Jefferson.
Participating males made a personal pledge to, “never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.”
By the campaign’s definition, the violence could be physical, emotional, verbal or sexual.
The White Ribbon Campaign originated in Canada in 1991, and has since spread to 55 countries across the world. This will mark the fourth year the campaign has been on campus, according to Michael Wiseman, director of the office fraternities and sororities – one of the events’ biggest sponsors on campus.
This campaign comes at a time when many women feel unsafe on campus at night, according to a survey taken last year by the Community Police Advisory Board.
The survey found that 53 percent of students feel safe on campus and 43 percent of students feel somewhat safe, but only 11 percent of females feel safe at night.
“There is a lot of stigma around the issue, so the actual numbers could be much higher,” said Akshay Kapoor, secretary of diversity for the SGA. “People are often afraid to come out and admit that they have been sexually assaulted.”
In particular, he pointed to outlying parking lots as a problem area, especially when people are walking to their cars late at night.
“It’s not OK for someone to feel afraid because they perceive someone else to have more power over them because of their gender,” said Kapoor.
In the three past years, the campaign has seen an average of 100 men taking the pledge per-year, according Wiseman.
Wiseman’s organization works in conjunction with the Every Woman’s Center, the Center for Health Promotions, UMass Athletics and the Department of Sports Management to make this event a reality.
Although not all, many of the involved men are part of Greek life because, “We want to make sure our men are aware of what the realities are for woman and domestic violence,” said Wiseman.
Kapoor, a member of Greek life himself, explained that men in fraternities are often subject to an unfair stigma in regards to their treatment of women.
“We are under more scrutiny, not only from the town and the school, but also from national organizations,” said Kapoor.
According to Wiseman, fraternities and sororities spend a lot of their time educating members on abuse and assault.
“We do workshops and presentations at chapter and council meetings,” said Wiseman. “We try to do outreach through out the year.”
As Kapoor sees it, violence against women has been socially constructed, almost to a point where people see it as acceptable, or an inevitable part of life.
“We have socially normalized it,” said Kapoor. “So in a sense, people think it’s okay to treat women this way.”
“We are trying to reverse that idea,” said Kapoor.
Zachary Weishar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.