“Healthy masculinity” the focus of event on Washburn campus

Alan Bearman, center, dean of university libraries and the center for student success at Washburn University, talks with several Washburn students during the “Healthy Masculinity” event held Monday at Bradbury-Thompson Alumni Center. (Angela Deines/The Capital-Journal)

Stories of how young men have had to get in touch with their emotions and show others how they feel were heard on Monday evening on the Washburn University campus as a kickoff to a series of events around “healthy masculinity.”

 

“A lot of people weren’t actively engaging in this conversation as they are today,” Joel Bluml, associate vice president of student life at Washburn University, told a group of about 100 students, most of whom were male. “You’re asked to think, maybe differently than you have before. There’s no finish line to healthy masculinity.”

The crowd who gathered at Washburn’s Bradbury-Thompson Alumni Center were chosen by staff and professors as leaders in the classroom, campus organizations, athletics, Greek life or another facet of Washburn University.

“It’s okay to open up, it’s okay to show emotion to other people,” Zach King, a Washburn senior, told his peers. “You should really tell other people how you feel because you never know if that will be the last time you see them.”

The event is one of several that are aimed at getting college-age men to talk about how they can have healthier relationships with others, including fostering respect for women which reduces the likelihood of sexual assault or unwanted sexual experiences.

“I think there’s a lot of ways in which men are ready to talk about masculinity in ways that they weren’t when I was growing up,” said Pat McGann, of the Washington, D.C.-based “Men Can Stop Rape” organization. “The goal is to reinforce some of the positive social norms in men’s lives that we want to see that are not only better for men, but for women and girls that are tied to social norms that create a safe environment.”

Roge Lagahid, 18, a Washburn freshman and Topeka West High School graduate, said Monday’s event was an “eye-opener” for him.

“You can talk and let people know how you feel about them,” he said, “especially how you can tell your friends about how you really feel about them. Me, growing up, I was never the type of guy to tell my friends how I felt about them or ‘hey, man, I love you.’ This, tonight, showed me that it’s really okay to say that to my friends.”

Stephan Simmons, a sophomore in music education, talked about his experience dealing with social pressure and gender roles.

“I tried to be somebody that I wasn’t,” he said. “When you’re passing someone on campus, put yourselves in their shoes before you pass judgment.”

Jerry Farley, president of Washburn, encouraged the students to speak up and talk about the expectations that may have been placed on them when they were younger on how they were supposed to act as boys.

“You come forward with all of that background, some would say with all that baggage because people had those expectations for you,” he said, “and you tried to live up to that. Perhaps tonight is the first step in what to do in some of those situations.”

Other speakers included Eric Grospitch, vice president of student life at Washburn University, who shared his story about being diagnosed with clinical depression when he was a young father and Brett Ballard, head coach of the Washburn’s men’s basketball team, who talked about dating his wife in college while also trying to deal with the temptations of being a member of the University of Kansas basketball team.

“I wouldn’t have been brave enough or mature enough to come to something like this when I was your age,” he told the crowd. “Hopefully you guys can learn from my mistakes and not make the same mistakes I did.”

Byron Hurt, co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention, considered the leading college-based rape prevention initiative, will speak at Washburn on Oct. 3. His appearance is part of Washburn’s initiatives in reducing sexual assault.

Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or follow her on Twitter @AngelaDeines.

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