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Stony Brook’s partnership with HeForShe brings optimism, controversy

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Stony Brook is one of two universities in the entire country that was chosen to be a part of the 10 university global initiative. PHOTO CREDIT: UN WOMEN.

One year after the launch of HeForShe, a campaign started by U.N. Women that calls upon boys and men to become advocates for gender equality, Stony Brook has solidified its partnership with the campaign.

U.N. Women started its groundwork by introducing IMPACT 10x10x10, a concept in which 10 universities, 10 corporations, and 10 countries around the world commit to helping achieve UN Women’s overarching goal: gender equality.

Stony Brook is one of two universities—the other being Georgetown University in Washington D.C.—in the entire country that was chosen to be a part of the 10 university global initiative, Charles Robbins, vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of the Undergraduate Colleges, said.

“It’s something that we as a community should be very proud of, that we have taken this stand and are willing to work on it,” Robbins said. “We were selected and announced by the U.N. [as] 1 of 10.”

The other universities involved include Oxford University and the University of Hong Kong  — “really amazing, amazing universities,” Robbins said.

In accordance with the agreement between Stony Brook and HeForShe, the university came up with three commitments to help further gender equality.

The goals are to “close the gap between men and women beginning at convocation and ending at graduation,” to “use Stony Brook University’s Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities to build global understanding of the role for men in achieving gender equality” and to “integrate gender equality into the academic and social experience of Stony Brook University,” according to a university news release.

“We have been working on HeForShe literally since the first day there was HeForShe,” Robbins said. “September 20, 2014, Stony Brook was there when Emma Watson gave that talk that became the viral video about HeForShe. We were literally in the house, in the U.N. headquarters.”

However this campaign isn’t flawless, senior psychology major Richelle Powell said. She said that the campaign excludes certain groups, including men themselves.

“So it’s great that this campaign exists, but I think the campaign needs a lot of work,” Powell, the secretary of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, said. “What will these men and boys do after making the pledge and how do we know that they’ve done anything? Also, while gender inequality affects women a lot more than men, men deal with gender inequality in some ways too and it’s important to acknowledge that.”

Robbins responded to these concerns by reassuring that HeForShe does not intentionally exclude anyone; it is in fact meant to benefit everyone.

“I know it’s a little off-putting to some folks, the name HeForShe, [but it] is really engaging everybody towards gender equality,” Robbins said. “Historically, the reason that this is important [was because] issues around gender equality were seen as a women’s issue. What we’re saying is that when gender equality is achieved, it benefits everybody. It benefits men; it benefits women.”

Teresa Tagliaferri, a senior health science and sociology double major, raised concerns that the campaign itself only refers to people who identify as men or women.

“We also have to recognize that the title ‘HeForShe’ could be more gender inclusive rather than reinforc[ing] the gender binary that exists in our society,” Tagliaferri said.

Following Stony Brook’s agreement with HeForShe, on Aug. 23, 2015, the university required all first year students, except for transfers/commuters, to attend a HeForShe program to inform the students about the movement.

“There were six presentations that day, and during one of them [the presentation for the Undergraduate College of Arts, Culture and Humanities] … the students felt that we weren’t being sensitive,” Robbins said, referring concerns like Tagliaferri’s.

Robbins said he recognizes these concerns and emphasizes that it is only the beginning and there is a plan to expand.

“We recognize that the wording of ‘HeForShe’ sounds like there’s just this binary relationship and there’s just men and there’s just women,” Robbins said. “But we do understand that there are many genders, there are many sexes. People identify in different ways. We are looking to engage all people around equality for all people and hopefully, within that context, we can really make an impact.”

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