This post originally appeared on LinkedIn on September 21, 2015.
I started playing basketball as a kid, in those crucial pubescent years when I was “learning to be a man” and seeking role models for how to do it. Basketball taught me a lot of positive lessons about adulthood, about manhood – it taught me about team work, it taught me about responsibility, and it taught me about perseverance – but it also taught me a lot about what not to do. The mentality around a lot of male sports teams is that of hyper-masculinity and strength; objectifying women, being physically aggressive, making homophobic remarks. All notions of what it means to be a “man,” all notions that I knew to be wrong.
After my father died suddenly in a car accident when I was 12, I was raised almost solely by my mom, a strong woman who instilled strong beliefs in me; the belief that women were equal to men; that gender did not define the roles we played in society (at home, at work, at school); and that physical aggression (especially towards women) was a sign of weakness rather than strength. For me, this was perfectly clear and perfectly at odds with the sports world around me. But for so many other guys this was the reality they knew, and that needed to change.
During my sophomore spring at Colby College, when I became both Captain of the Men’s Basketball Team and President of Male Athletes Against Violence (MAAV), I knew I was in a unique position to do just that; to change perceptions of masculinity and violence both on my campus and in my sport.
On college campuses across the country, the words “male athlete” and “sexual violence” are often seen as inextricably linked. And the truth is, they are. But as much as the culture surrounding college athletics may contribute to the problem, it can also offer insight into creating the best solutions. Solutions that engage male athletes to end sexual assault and gender-based violence rather than perpetuate it. By engaging with the positive aspects of athletics, like leadership and responsibility, we could use them to overcome the negative ones.
This isn’t just important for male athletes, but for men in general. A recent report by No Ceilings, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation, found that even though we’ve made a ton of progress in furthering gender equality, we’re just not there yet. It will take all genders – and is to the benefit of all genders – to ensure we finish the job. This is especially true for gender-based violence, where nearly 100% of the time men are the ones perpetrating these crimes towards women. However, it’s too often considered solely a “women’s issue.” We’ve tasked women with creating their own solutions, putting the onus on them to “not be raped” rather than telling men “not to rape.” If we want to eradicate these gender- based crimes, we must confront and involve the gender that has proven to be most likely to assault.
That’s why, three years ago, I created Party With Consent (PWC), a grassroots organization that works on college campuses to engage all students, especially men and especially athletes, as allies and advocates in preventing gender-based violence. Using the dominate party culture on most campuses and carried out by most sports teams, the idea of Party With Consent is to meet students where they are and to use the lessons they’ve learned on the sports field or off to create an open dialogue about consent and positive sexual relationships on campus.
With the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) in 2014, we committed to expand our work and coordinate educational programs that encourage sexual activity that is consensual to prevent sexual violence in college campuses across the nation, and now even around the world. Since the CGI U 2014 meeting, I’ve traveled to 20 college/high school campuses and spoken at numerous conferences and panels to spread the word and share the message of Party with Consent. Together, my team and I have worked to continue the PWC message on college campuses through building chapters, guiding awareness campaigns, and supporting PWC event planning. There are nearly 10,000 PWC tanktops, 10,000 PWC stickers, and 6,000 PWC cups out in the world. The most recent batch printed by our newest chapter in Uganda!
We’ve only just started the conversation. There is so much work to be done to change perceptions and social norms, and create lasting solutions to end violence. The road is long, but I’m optimistic. By challenging stereotypes, breaking the silence and creating a truly open and inclusive discussion, we can create a generation without ceilings (behavioral, societal, whatever!) for men and women.
To learn more about the gains girls and women have made around the world, and the gaps that remain, check out the Clinton Foundation’s #NotThere campaign in partnership with MTV’s Look Different, and learn the facts on NoCeilings.org.