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STANFORD -- U.S. colleges have been working harder in recent years to address the problem of sexual assault on campus, through educational programs, women's support groups and women's self-defense classes.

If you ask Stanford University senior Matthew Mizel, though, something is missing from the picture - men.

"Why should women have to take self-defense classes when it isn't their responsibility to stop rape?" asks the 21-year- old psychology major. "It should be men learning how not to rape, rather than women learning how not to be raped."

Last year, Mizel helped to organize the first Stanford Men's Collective, a group of about 10 male students that meets two hours a week to discuss ways of preventing sexual assault, as well as gender issues.

Though women are welcome to attend meetings, he said, the group is primarily a forum for young men to express their feelings about women, sex, relationships and being men in the '90s.

"People often ask if we're connected with Robert Bly [author of Iron John and leader of the New Age men's movement]. We're not," Mizel said while taking sign-ups at Stanford's annual student activities fair.

Still, he acknowledged, "there's a lot of curiosity about us on campus. How often do men get together to talk about something besides intellectual topics, sports, politics or the economy? Unfortunately, men organizing and doing something about rape is unusual."

This year, the Men's Collective hopes to expand its activities by organizing rape education discussions for men in campus dormitories, fraternities, clubs and sports teams.

The programs may include clips from The Real World, a popular cable television drama, illustrating the confusing signals that can lead to unwanted sexual encounters. Discussion will focus on how men might deal with such situations, and with relationships in general.

"The idea is not to be accusatory toward men, but to say that this is a problem that concerns us, and we need to work together to solve it," Mizel said.

"We want the participants to see rape not as something that other men do, but as part of a spectrum of abusive or unwanted behaviors that we all engage in from time to time, from telling degrading jokes to outright assault. They all show varying levels of disrespect and contempt for women."

Mizel's own interest in rape and gender issues dates back to high school in Morristown, N.J., when a close friend of his was nearly raped in her home by a classmate. Later, a male friend confided to Mizel that he had been raped by two men at another college.

Perhaps the most influential factor, though, was a relationship that Mizel had with a female student during his first two years at Stanford.

"I learned a lot about sexism and feminism from her," he said. "She was very afraid of rape, and for a long time that really prevented her from trusting me. It really affected her life - where she went at night, what she did, what clothes she wore.

"For some crazy reason, I believed in freedom and equality in those things, and this to me was saying that there really isn't freedom and equality. I wanted to change that."

The Stanford Men's Collective works with other student groups in the campus Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and with coordinators of sexual assault prevention, education and referral at Stanford's Cowell Student Health Center.

-tmj/men's collective-


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