Written by Reese Grayson

Over two years ago, the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center’s Voices Against Violence program started “MasculinUT,” an initiative focused on promoting healthy masculine identities on the Forty Acres. After two years of increasing involvement on campus, MasculinUT is looking like more than a momentary project.

Instead, both faculty and students together have established a program that addresses issues of masculine identities, diversity and inclusion, and interpersonal violence at UT Austin.

MasculinUT has spread awareness and engaged students around these issues in many creative ways. Back in 2015, the program started with a panel discussion featuring UT faculty and Dr. Michael Messner, a professor of Sociology and Gender at the University of Southern California. In 2017, MasculinUT hosted an on-campus screening of the critically acclaimed film Moonlight. After the screening, Moonlight actor and UT grad Trevante Rhodes spoke about his experience playing his role and how unhealthy masculine identities can negatively affect gay men of color.

Rhodes at UT’s screening of Moonlight on February 16, 2017. Image by University of Texas Campus Events + Entertainment.

The program has also hosted and facilitated fishbowl discussions, in which students have explored what it means to be masculine and how masculine social norms have affected them.

Most recently, MasculinUT conducted a poster campaign that showcased how many students of all identities and backgrounds are affected by society’s narrow definition of masculinity.  

When considering the future of the program, Voices Against Violence Prevention and Outreach Specialist, Lauren White, and student, Garrett Mireles share similar views on the work that still needs to be done. Mireles, who is involved with MasculinUT, said, “[The program] needs to move further into traditionally masculine spaces. He explained that “building out a further network of people” who want to further the goals and principles of MasculinUT is one of the program’s strategies to spread awareness about these issues.

Mireles encourages as many people to get involved as possible, saying that MasculinUT “makes you more of a social, healthy person…able to reconcile, understand, and unpack your own identity.”

For White, entering new spaces “is not only a daunting challenge, but also an extremely exciting challenge.” They said that when MasculinUT first began, the largest challenge was determining the future of the initiative.

“We have limited resources and time and energy – what do we want to put that towards? How do we engage the college campus and find people that are interested in learning about it and want to be involved?” they explained.

White then shared that MasculinUT is currently taking those steps to enter new spaces where these discussions are not usually held. For example, they mentioned that hanging up posters all over campus is a small, but meaningful, way to enter new spaces, and the program is starting to host more fishbowl discussions with varying groups on campus.

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Image by Voices Against Violence.

Creating change around these sensitive subjects is very difficult, and MasculinUT recognizes that people’s points of view will not change overnight. When discussing how the program is hoping to achieve these cultural shifts, White referenced a concept from one of their favorite books, adrienne merree brown’s Emerging Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.

According to White, MasculinUT’s educational workshops, poster campaigns, fishbowls, faculty panels, and classes on masculinity all create “fractals,” which is a strategy of shifting perspectives and building relationships on a small scale that are naturally replicated on a larger scale.

White said that these fractals may seem small at first, but they create “iterations and patterns, and as you zoom out you see them repeated over and over.” They said that “those small changes in perspectives is what makes [the] macro changes” that MasculinUT is hoping to make on the Forty Acres.

Lauren White is the Prevention and Outreach Specialist for Voices Against Violence. Garrett Mireles is a third-year student from Beaumont, Texas, majoring in advertising at UT .

To get involved with MasculinUT, email voicesagainstviolence@austin.utexas.edu.


Featured image: ©Phil Roeder. Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license.

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