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All-male forum considers assault

Seeking to add a different voice to campus dialogue on sexual assault, about 30 male undergraduates joined a panel of faculty members and administrators for a Wayne Manor-sponsored discussion on the subject Monday evening.

Organizers intended the event to be informal. Director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life Todd Adams, Assistant Director for Outreach Services at Counseling and Psychological Services John Barrow and Administrative Coordinator for Student Health Ray Rodriguez sat in a circle with students and let the discussion unfold.

"We were vague ourselves about what was going to happen here," Adams said. "We didn't want to come in and actually do a program."

They fielded questions from students for about an hour and a half, attempting to address sexual assault at the University in light of a reported attack that took place in October in the same residence hall, Wannamaker Dormitory, where they were meeting Monday evening.

"What we have found is that our numbers for sexual assault are not overwhelmingly increasing or overwhelmingly different from other schools," Rodriguez said.

He attributed the perception of increased assault rates at Duke to more incidents being reported. "More people are saying, 'This happened. I know what this is,'" he said.

The panelists emphasized the role of non-assailants--students who can help change campus attitudes toward sexual assault by subtly but staunchly opposing it in a variety of ways.

"There probably aren't that many people on campus who have or who will commit sexual assault," Barrow said. "However, how many people would step in and intervene if a friend or perhaps an acquaintance was targeting [someone for a possible sexual assault]?"

Rodriguez said his office would soon initiate an advertising campaign showing statistics regarding men's sentiments toward sexual assault.

"We often feel disempowered when it comes time to do something," Rodriguez said. "But there's a lot of power. We just have to channel it."

He cited the role of men as especially crucial for change in the climate, noting that a male-only club devoted to sexual assault issues may have helped reduce the incidence of assault from 1993 to 1995.

Junior Hany Elmariah, who organized the discussion, said he restricted the talk to only men so that they could feel more relaxed and express their true feelings on the topic.

Elmariah said he was pleased with the resulting discussion.

"I don't think some of those questions would have come out if there had been girls," he said afterward.

Many of those in attendance had high praise for the types of topics that entered into the talk, noting that when a female student inadvertently interrupted the meeting, all conversation stopped.

"The best thing about it was they weren't afraid to [examine] the issues," said sophomore Patrick Flight. "They just kind of laid it on the line."

Elmariah said that one negative aspect of the discussion was the almost total lack of racial diversity among those in attendance. He blamed poor advertising, saying his publicity efforts consisted of an e-mail to Interfraternity Council members.

"We could have done some ads, some flyering," he said. "I would love for us to do it again--maybe even make it bigger."

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