November 30, 2009

Campus group promotes gender equality

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- James Phoenix is much more aware these days of the things people around him are saying and doing.

The junior political science major from Belvidere credits his work with the Progressive Masculinities Mentors (PMM) at Southern Illinois University Carbondale with making him more aware of the world around him and, in turn, involving him in the battle for gender equality and the fights against stereotypes and relationship violence. Phoenix and others from the PMM group further expanded their understanding of those topics and related issues recently while also sharing their experiences at the 1st National Conference for Campus-Based Men’s Gender Equality and Anti-Violence Groups.

Held at St. Johns University in Collegeville, Minn., the conference was a chance for like-minded people to gather, share information and learn more from one another and from the numerous experts on hand, said Derrick L. Williams, violence prevention coordinator for SIUC’s Student Health Center-Wellness and leader of the Progressive Masculinities Mentors.

Williams said they were privileged to hear presenters the likes of Byron Hurt, documentary filmmaker of “Barack and Curtis” and “I Am a Man” fame, and Michael Kimmel, author of acclaimed books including “Guyland” and “Men Confront Pornography.” The SIUC group presented its experiences in “A Genderation of Men: Progressive Masculinities Mentors (Strategies for Building a Men’s Group).”

“While we were there, we heard from the leading experts across the nation dealing with relationship violence and gender equality. Participants represented more than 40 universities. We also presented a workshop there about our group and the things we’re doing on campus including the weekly RAP sessions, the Men Against Violence Week activities and our middle school mentoring program,” Williams said.

Williams said the conference offered ideas for making a bigger impact, positive ways to get their message across to other men on campus, how to recruit members and sustain the group and how to work with women’s groups. Participants attended keynote addresses and breakout sessions, shared resources and ideas, discussed strategies and talked about what’s happening on campuses.

“I took away from it how important it is to stay involved with issues like gender equality and how important it is for voices to be heard,” Phoenix said. He got involved with PMM two years ago after meeting Williams at a campus event and said his experience with the organization has “given me a different perspective on what’s really going on in society regarding gender equality and relationship violence. It’s made me more aware of what’s being said by my friends and other people, more aware of what goes on.”

Chris Hereford, a sophomore therapeutic recreation major from Rockford, said the conference had a “lifelong positive impact” on him. He got involved with PMM in April after engaging in an intense classroom discussion with Williams.

“I’m not really much of a group person but Derrick asked me to get involved and told me how I could help others and how it would benefit me. He invited me to the Raising Awareness Progressively (RAP) forum PMM has each Thursday and I went. Ever since that day, I was hooked,” Hereford said.

“I’m a good guy but it’s very easy to fall to peer pressure. You have a voice but you’re part of culture. PMM gave me a voice, made me feel relevant and made my opinion matter, my voice be heard. I found out I’m not alone. We learn from each other and it widens my view. We want to spread the message on this campus and beyond. We want more people involved. We practice this stuff -- we don’t just talk about it. This is what we do and who we are,” Hereford said.

The conference was informative and a good experience for the group from Carbondale, Williams said. He said they were amazed at how much they already knew about gender violence and feel good about what they do. Their goal is “to create a safe environment on campus and develop young men and young women to become leaders in their community, to be engaged and involved not only with their peers but as mentors in the community,” Williams said.

According to the United States Department of Justice, one in four women will be the victim of sexual violence or relationship violence and the number is likely even higher due to underreporting, Williams said. That’s part of the “why” the SIUC Student Health Center’s Wellness Center founded PMM. The group has sponsored a variety of events since its inception in October 2007, including a “100 Man Walk” and Men Against Violence Week activities. About 40 members strong, they also meet each Thursday at 7 p.m. for RAP sessions in Room 111-112 at the Student Health Center.

“We encourage people who want to get involved to come to RAP,” said Williams, the group’s facilitator.

More recently, they’ve branched out to form a companion group for women, the Southern Illinois Sisterhood (SIS). That small new group meets 6-7 p.m. Thursdays, just prior to PMM, at the same location. Williams and Megan Jones, coordinator for Rape Crisis Services at the Women’s Center, Inc. of Carbondale, are facilitators for the women’s group.

Both groups are fostering gender equality and healthy self-esteem while fighting sexual and relationship violence, Williams said. Plans are already under way for future group activities to foster their mission and that includes expanding men against violence week activities to Violence Awareness Month. Set for April, there will be a series of events and activities in conjunction with other campus organization and departments, according to Williams.

To find out more about PMM or SIS, visit one of their meetings, check out their Facebook page; they plan to soon have a fan page but for now, search for Derrick Williams. Or, contact him by telephone at 618/303-2824 or by e-mail at

Students from SIUC accompanying Williams and Jones to the conference and presenting information about PMM, its activities and successes, listed by hometown with major and year at the University, are:


• James Phoenix, junior, political science.


• Raymond Townes, junior, business finance.


• LaCharles Ward, junior, psychology/speech communication.


• Ryan Henry, freshman, architectural studies.


• Chris Hereford, sophomore, therapeutic recreation.