MasculinUT to hold interactive discussion about male identity

Victor Trevino

Masculinity is a social construct, created over years of gender divisions. But on Thursday, Voices Against Violence will deconstruct it in two hours.

More than a year after its inception, MasculinUT will host its first event, “A Fishbowl Discussion,” at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17 at the SAC’s Multicultural Engagement Center. The session will explore the social norms of male identity, and is structured so attendees can step inside the metaphorical “fishbowl” to share their experiences of times when an assertion of masculinity harmed someone. The testimonies will be used to explore masculinity as a social construct and to identify its problems.

MasculinUT was created by the Counseling and Mental Health Center’s Voices Against Violence initiative, and aims to promote healthy masculinities on campus by engaging students through public events and workshops.

“The goal is to explore masculinity and to think about the connections between unhealthy masculinity and how that relates to or condones interpersonal violence,” said Lauren White, health education coordinator for VAV and one of the event organizers.

VAV aims to make attendees reflect on their own personal experiences with masculinity, spurring dialogue that discusses its potentially harmful aspects.

“The fishbowl event is meant to be the first opportunity to do exploration, to get conversations going, to go deeper about masculinities in a designated space,” White said.

Everyone will have an opportunity to speak. Those who identify as men will start by forming an inner circle to talk about masculinity while those on the outside listen. Then, the groups switch places for another round of dialogue. 

Government senior Justin Atkinson is a member of the Texas Blazers, one of the organizations hosting the event. He said the male honors society is invested in promoting healthy masculinity on campus because it isn’t addressed enough in social circles.

“Having men be visible allies about it, taking ownership of it and saying it’s also a men’s issue is powerful,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson said he wants to see more preventative measures, rather than programs or initiatives that react to the effects of unhealthy masculinity, such as the Bystander Intervention Initiative, which helps students recognize and act on a potentially harmful situations, and UTPD’s BeSafe campaign, which encourages students to be aware of their surroundings. 

“You don’t see [preventative measures] a lot, so the fact that VAV has started MasculinUT is so crucial,” Atkinson said.

VAV specifies that masculinity isn’t inherently harmful, but that there are harmful aspects that affect its overall perception.

MasculinUT also doesn’t consider there to be one singular masculinity, which is why the Fishbowl Discussion will place so much emphasis on having people of different genders all contributing to get at the roots of the problem.

Electrical engineering senior Alex Bi is a member of the Asian Desi Pacific Islander American Collective, another organization hosting the discussion. He said he is excited for the gender diversity of the discussion, and hopes the different perspectives he hears at the event will transform his own concept of masculinity.

“Men walk through the world differently than those who identify as non-men,” Bi said. “There’s a lot to learn from these other perspectives.”

In the future, VAV plans to host MasculinUT events that specifically address ways to prevent such problems from manifesting themselves.

“At the end of the day, it’s not going to be fixed unless you address it and prevent it,” Atkinson said.