While most twenty-something males are concerned with the athletics, girls and grades, Eric Barthold has something else on his mind: stopping sexual violence on college campuses.
Since 2010, Barthold’s Mules Against Violence (MULES) has been raising awareness among Maine’s Colby College student body about the issue. The idea came to Barthold one day while sitting in his “Boys to Men” class where a girl was presenting research concerning sexual assault on campus. In that moment, Barthold realized something needed to be done and that it had to start with men.
Originally, he and two other students formed the group Male Athletes Against Violence, but they changed the name to accommodate female members. (The mule is the school’s mascot.) With that, the group set on their mission to educate the student body and “challenge male athlete stereotypes,” according to Collectively.
So far, group activities include joining the college’s Quilting Club to knit a giant quilt in the middle of the Student Center and encouraging male athletes to attend the Take Back the Night rally every year.
Unique to MULES, though, is the Man Box activity. This hour-long presentation, which targets men, starts with one simple question: What does it take to be a ‘real’ man? From there, a conceptual box is drawn with the responses being written inside it. On the outside are the answers to the question about what characteristics aren’t thought of as being associated with men.
“You almost always get: strong, powerful, controlling, drinks beer or can hold his alcohol, can get lots of girls, heterosexual, no emotions,” Barthold tells Collectively.
On the outside, though, are all the traits that aren’t considered masculine, such as emotional, sensitive, caring, drives a Prius or skinny jeans.
“The exercise shows the anxiety that guys feel to be manly,” Barthold explains. “If they’re in the box, they’re OK. But if they fall outside the box, they get targeted.”
The final questions Barthold asks the group concern how men protect themselves from being perpetrators of sexual violence and how women protect themselves from being victims. While the men have an answer about women, they can’t answer it about themselves.
Due to the success of his program, Barthold has expanded it to all-boys middle and high schools with the hopes of starting change at a younger age.
MORE: How to Fix Alaska’s Culture of Sexual Violence