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Manning up for women's rights

Ryan Brady
Chris Kosakowski, the head of prevention and education team for Vera House, reaches 8,778 people with his Prevention and Education Program.

Eric McGriff knows there are a lot of ways to define what it means to be a man. He went through Vera House programs on men’s violence that challenge norms and raise awareness about healthy relationships.

 “It was helpful to have diverse men around me having conversations every single week to make me think differently about my masculinity,” McGriff said. “To expand it, to diversify it and show me that it's okay to do that – and that it doesn't make me any less of a person or man.” 

It’s crucial for men to feel comfortable interrogating their views of manliness and stereotypes of masculinity. McGriff emphasized the importance of this kind of introspection.

“We try to get to a place where we feel comfortable in our manhood – doesn't matter what someone says, what they do to try to make you look a certain way – you’re good with who you are because you know that masculinity is diverse and there is no one way to be it,” McGriff said.

Chris Kosakowski is the head of Vera House’s campus prevention and education team that works with 19 local schools. Vera House offers programs such as “Men. Lead by Example” and the Alternatives Program. Both are aimed at providing forums for men to learn about domestic violence as well as gain tools to help control themselves and take accountability.

“The training looks at those social messages we receive, the social norms that get perpetuated, how we can look at masculinity and what it means to be a man,” Kosakowski said. “We dissect those and talk about the emotions we are allowed to express, the gender roles we are supposed to play out and how those impacts relationships.”

Ryan Brady

Kosakowski’s team reached 9,000 people in various colleges and community groups. He uses his light-hearted personality as well as his intersectional identity as a queer person of color to connect to a range of people. Prevention educator Nicole Blidy works with Kosakowski and praised her supervisor for his passion.

“He is really, really good at what he does,” Blidy said. “He is so smart and funny. He cares so much about the people we serve, his employees, and the work. That’s the bottom line. That’s Chris.”

Kosakowski and his campus team work toward the Title IX goal of preventing sexual harassment. The federal law requires schools to have a procedure to report violence and services to support victims. They also educate various groups including athletes, clubs and Greek organizations.

“I have worked with a number of fraternities where I have gone into their space to do training for all their members,” Kosakowski said. “And it’s been some of the greatest conversations I have had about these issues.”

Kosakowksi tailors his training to take into account the culture of Greek life. He used uncomfortable yet realistic scenarios to help students avoid the slippery slopes that lead to sexual assault.

“If you see one of your brothers feeding someone drinks and trying to make them go upstairs, how can you actually step in and do something?” Kosakowski said. “What does that mean for your brother, your fraternity, for you as a person? And how do you have that conversation as a community?”

He pointed out that all men have a role to play in the prevention of sexual harassment and violence. That role can range from re-evaluating what he calls toxic masculinity to being a guide for others. Kosakowski also recognized the growth that can happen when he showed how problematic comments or jokes can be harmful.

“Doing these trainings,” Kosakowski said. “Sometimes you do get to actually see that ah-ha moment when you’re presenting some information in a way that you can really see it click for someone.”

Nineteen percent of women and 5% to 6% of men will experience sexual assault in college. Title IX prohibits sexual harassment or violence and requires schools to address it. Vera House is working with Syracuse University and other schools to help meet that requirement and show how men can better understand their role in preventing it.

Entitled to Equality is a collaboration between The Newhouse School, The STAND and WAER, examining the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the perspectives on the law’s protections.