By: Sacchi Patel
It was six years ago that I completed my first Fall semester at Syracuse University, now I’m on my final one. Self-reflection isn’t the most natural thing in the world, but the doctoral program applications that I’ve been filling out so tediously have required personal statements and letters of purpose. As a result, I’ve been forced to take some time and reflect on my journey from high school, through undergraduate work, and onto my final year of my master’s degree pursuit. If there was one thing I realized it is that I’ve changed drastically in the last six years.
This blog post is only the story of my personal journey. I don’t think my work is any more or less important than that of other advocates. I’m just looking to describe my role as a member of a team of amazing people who are committed to this cause. It’d be self-centered to think that I was a trailblazer. Plenty of men have been standing up against violence for a while now. Even more women have been trying to raise awareness and get others to join the cause since the outset of this movement. There have also been transgender, gender non-conforming individuals who have also been part of the struggle. At 23 years old, I am putting myself “out there” as a middle-class, heterosexual, Indian-American, able-bodied, man of color. I have learned a great deal about myself and my oppressed and privileged identities. There is one solid fact that stands out: I have a lot to offer. I have a lot to learn.
I began my journey in high school growing up in a rather affluent area in New Jersey called Whippany where only 1% of the entire population lived below the poverty line. It was 90% White, 9% Asian, and less than 1% Black (2000 US Census). I was involved in everything from jazz band to varsity basketball to soccer. The sports teams I played for were highly popular (and highly successful) and propelled me into the “popular group.” With this popularity came a great deal of privilege (or rewards for hard work as I then saw it then): friends, respect, news reporters, admiration, interest from girls/women, free lunches or dinners, and not to mention the occasional “free pass” with some of the teachers. Oh, and the rumors…they were the best part. They were almost always false… but they were ALWAYS “good” rumors (or at least what a high school guy would consider a good rumor). I let people think they were true. I believe all that was said about me and thought I deserved the special treatment. There was no reason to ever question why all of these rewards were being presented to me.
Without a second thought, I let my ego inflate further and moved onto to Syracuse University to begin undergraduate work as a pre-medicine, biology major. I aspired to be a plastic surgeon. I claimed this was so I can help people, but part of me was influenced by the early seasons of the show Nip/Tuck. I had seen movies and heard that college was going to be “just like American Pie” and I couldn’t help but be excited. I did whatever I could to gain popularity and fit in. I could reinvent myself right? So that’s what I did. I went around with the collar on my polo literally popped, acted stuck-up, and acted like I was tough and stoic all of the time. This was especially true while I was on the basketball court in the gym trying to play a pick-up game to prove that I had skill. This is what I valued. This is what I thought needed to be valued. Was it too much to want to fit in?
Wearing a mask and pretending I was this false person was tiring and uncomfortable. It was hard being a jerk constantly. It was hard disrespecting women to gain respect with men. It was hard never showing emotion. Oddly, I couldn’t be happier that this was such a difficult task for me. You see it was easy for me to let it go. But now where do I fit in?
I was fortunate enough to meet one of my best friends that I made in college while playing basketball one day. He approached me and complimented my game-winning three-point basket in a pick-up game that he was watching. I immediately thought this was out of the ordinary because another man had never really gone out of his way to compliment me and make me feel good. He told me that he was involved in a men’s group that dialogue about violence against women. My first instinct was to question his sexuality or intent, but instead of putting him down we formed a friendship that exists to this day.
When my friend asked me to check out AMI: A Men’s Issue, I went. I felt comfortable about being there. I learned about myself as a person and as a man. Because what did I know about masculinity? Apparently nothing. I owe it to this student group for transforming me into the man I truly always wanted to be.
Women began to see me as a “safe” man on campus. AMI worked closely with the S.U. Rape: Advocacy, Prevention, Education (R.A.P.E.) Center and this was publicly known. One-by-one those women whom I was friends with started to disclose that were raped. I remember being completely devastated when the first friend told me. I felt so badly that someone had made the decision to do something so hurtful to her. I wished that this would never happen again. But then it happened. This time to another friend. And another. I was only 19 going on to my second year in college and already three women in my life had told me about incidents that would change their lives forever. Iit would also change mine each time they would tell me. It happened again and again. As I entered my senior year, I had literally lost count of my friends who had been sexually assaulted or raped on the same campus where I took classes; The same campus where I played basketball; The same campus where the perpetrators walk next to me?! Could Syracuse University be so unsafe that people (particularly women) were being raped as such high rates? What was so unique about SU that this was happening? –Nothing. I quickly found out that this is happening all around the country. What is wrong with our country? –A lot.
Working closely with the S.U. R.A.P.E. Center, I learned that 1 in 4 women on college campus around the country are sexually assaulted or raped by the time they graduate. As shocking as this was to me, I saw it right before my eyes. As I looked into their eyes. The eyes of each one of my friends who had been impacted by violence.
I wanted to do something. If my friends were coming to me that obviously meant that I should at least have options for them. I should have resources for them. And I should be a good friend and support them however they saw fit. Seeing women stripped of the power and control they so inconsistently held in the first place was upsetting to say the least. I thought back to times when I felt that powerless and not in control. I couldn’t really think of many times that happened. I learned that though everyone can directly be victimized by sexual assault, it was almost always happening to women and by men. Something needed to happen. So if this is a problem that negatively impacts women then they should check their back seats next time they go to their car late at night, walk in groups, and let someone know where they are going at all times right? Well I found that they are already doing that. Well, then why hasn’t anything changed? I discovered that men might actually need to join the cause to have things start to change. If we can only control ourselves, then the potential victim or survivor cannot prevent a rape because they sure aren’t assaulting or raping themselves. So we all have a role to play in violence prevention.
I changed my major and career path so that I can study how to truly prevent all forms of violence on an institutional level. Working closely with the R.A.P.E Center and AMI, I was able to learn a great deal and it helped me understand that this is something I need to do. Not just for my friends who have been impacted, not just for their friends, not just for my classmates, but for the people who I will never meet, for our future generations, and for myself. I want to understand what it means to be a man without hurting others. I want to understand what it means to be a good father without encouraging violence.
Not all men are jerks. Perhaps the title of this piece is misleading yet intentionally provocative. However, the fact of the matter is that men do face the possibility of waking up each day and being a jerk. This is due to the power that we acquire just by identifying as men whether we want that power or not. We are oppressive by nature due to the group we are part of. Every single privilege that we are given has been served to us on the backs of women. So I will offer some of the elements that I now live by while working as an Anti-Violence Advocate and a man who is against violence:
Educate other men.
Always continue learning. We as men can never understand what it truly means to be a woman, or transgender, or any other gender identity, but we can continue to be open to listening.
Always remind yourself why you doing this work. Are we in it to protect women and come to their rescue or are we in it to stand alongside woman and all folks united as one?
Always think about what people we are leaving out.
Always stand up for what you believe in.
I am not a hero, nor do I want to be, I am simply someone who should’ve been a part of this cause a long time ago. There are many other people who have been doing this work and they are doing better work than I can ever do. I am still a man whose gender has been responsible for so much devastation. However, I am a person who will actively wake up each day and work hard to not perpetuate that devastation.