Violence in schools: Mentors teach cultural change
October 18, 2012
Fort Sill, Okla. -- Local 11th graders in the three high schools were given a special workshop on being role models and leaders last week as part of Domestic Violence Prevention month activities.
"We chose to take the Mentors in Violence Prevention program into our three local high schools in October, during Domestic Violence Prevention Month, because it is a research-based program grounded on the idea of leadership and what it takes to be a leader," said Leslie Watts, Family Advocacy Program Prevention Specialist at Fort Sill Army Community Service. "Mentors in Violence Prevention supports the concept that working toward and practicing healthy behavior increases our sense of community and our likelihood to intervene when something bad is taking place. MVP looks at violence in all aspects - sexual harassment, dating violence and bullying - and how students can make a cultural change to reduce the violence in their school and their community."
"The kids were very good and receptive to what the mentors had to say. The topics of leadership and social responsibility are real issues in schools that students need to think about and talk about and it really starts that conversation," said Brenda Pirtle, MacArthur High School activities director.
"The fact that we targeted only 11th graders is good too because it was a smaller group and they listened and interacted on subjects like bullying and gender violence in the schools," Pirtle said. "The smaller group dynamic gives the students more exposure to the issues and it opened up the dialogue."
Liz Feldhusen, a school counselor in Colorado, got involved in the Mentors in Violence Prevention program while working at Northeastern University in a nonprofit center called Center for Sport and Society.
"That center was founded by the curriculum of Jackson Katz. He wrote the mentors in violence script and it was his concept to put athletes out in the world to challenge people to confront gender violence," Feldhusen said. "I worked for Sport and Society for a couple years and what that organization does is they hire people who have a background in sports to be the voices of promoting social justice in general."
The society uses athletes because of the status and respect they receive as the hook so people will hear the message.
"It was founded with just male athletes having the conversation with other men. Women were fighting for the cause or talking about it but, like any other social issue, both men and women need to be involved to effect change" she said.
"The main topic of the conversation is gender violence but we try to relate that to the bigger picture and what it comes down to is leadership in general," said Feldhusen. "So anytime you're going to confront any kind of social injustice, whether it's gender violence or another type of violence, it's going to take leadership."
Daryl Fort got involved in the program back in his hometown where he was involved in a program called Boys to Men, an organization that's focused on the healthy development of young men and boys.
"It's a violence prevention based program as well. I met Jackson Katz through that program and what he was doing with MVP and what I was interested in meshed," said Fort. "Even though at the time I was working for a congressman, I thought it was a great opportunity to get to do some work which was really related and close to me - social justice work. Getting men and young men involved in preventing violence against women."
The idea is to plant the seed in young people's minds to perhaps think differently about their roles and responsibilities in their school community and their greater community, Fort said.
"There are all kinds of reasons why people are dissuaded from being empowered bystanders and getting involved and confronting that type of behavior," said Fort. "The easy thing to do is to look away or not get involved. There are different degrees of getting involved and we don't advocate that they be a hero and jump in the middle of a violent situation but there are other safe and effective ways to step up and confront violence and violent behavior."
Fort said the third part of their message is to support each other by developing a critical mass of people who are willing to step forward and support each other. "If we develop that critical mass, the violence becomes less tolerable for any organization, or peer group or school or community to behave in violent ways."
Fort said the main message is this is a leadership issue.
"The leaders need to understand these issues and role model this behavior and support in various ways the people who are stepping up and doing the right thing amongst their subordinates.
"Too often in our culture we have forces that drive us away from stepping up and getting involved and there is the real fear of a threat to their social safety or personal safety," said Fort.