Connect to End Violence (CONNECT) and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) have recently joined forces to bring the White Ribbon Day campaign and pledge to the Martha’s Vineyard community.
White Ribbon Day is an international campaign that urges men of all ages to speak out in opposition of violence against women. School adjustment counselor and Stand with Everyone Against Rape (SWEAR) coordinator Matt Malowski said, “Sadly, this happens more than people realize in our community. There are people being victimized and assaulted every day, even on our Island. We are so lucky to have CONNECT on the Island, but at the same time, it’s saddening that programs like CONNECT have to exist.”
The White Ribbon Day movement was founded in 1991 by a group of Canadian men in response to a massacre of fourteen women in Montreal, Canada. Jane Doe Incorporated, a Massachusetts foundation that provides a platform for young men to take a public stance against violence against women, introduced White Ribbon Day to Massachusetts in 2008. The campaign is in its twelfth year internationally. MVRHS recognized it this year for the second year in a row. Sixty countries have taken part in the campaign and over five million people have signed its pledge, by which they vow to be a part of the solution to violence against women.
Though White Ribbon Day is held internationally on March 1, the MVRHS community honored the campaign on February 20, due to the timing of winter break. Sign-up sheets were offered to students who were interested in taking the pledge, and white ribbons were offered as pins to signify one’s intolerance of violence towards women, men, and children. Interns from CONNECT, along with Mr. Malowski and students Hailey Meader and Colin Henke, set up a table in the cafeteria at lunch and encouraged students, faculty, and members of the school community to get involved in the White Ribbon Day campaign.
The boys’ hockey team paid tribute to the White Ribbon Day campaign the following weekend by wearing white ribbon decals on their helmets and taking the pledge together before their game. CONNECT set up a table at the rink, too, offering ribbons and informational brochures to educate fans and community members on the campaign and to encourage them to do their part in ending violence against women. They acquired about 80 signatures at the hockey game as well.
Hockey captain Ian Trance, who is also an active member of SWEAR, said, “We as a team want to be a part of this movement. If we can talk about the importance of White Ribbon Day in front of our fans, it might spark others to sign the pledge. Especially if we can start spreading awareness of violence against women to the future generation, it will hopefully influence the young boys who come and watch us play to make the right choices.”
In December, Jane Doe Incorporated sponsored the Reimagine Manhood Symposium at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, which focused on the prevention of toxic masculinity. Nine male students attended. The goal of the symposium was to strengthen men’s understanding of how to prevent toxic masculinity and also to highlight initiatives that are currently working towards gender equality. Three-hundred people were in attendance, 85 of them high school males.
Junior Jack Holmes, who participated in the symposium, said, “It’s a very small percentage of men that are committing these crimes, but a very large percentage of males who are bystanders, and essentially by not doing anything to stop it, we are guilty too. If we can get [the bystanders] to speak up, then we can actually make a change.”
About 200 MVRHS students in total have taken the White Ribbon Day pledge, promising to never engage in violence against women or to let it occur with their awareness. Twenty-four were willingly videotaped reciting the pledge in order to influence other young men and women to join the campaign.
Mr. Malowski said, “I hope that our students will gain a sense of ownership and responsibility, knowing that they can do something to make a difference. I hope this will encourage people to become active bystanders.”
Isadora Brito, a domestic violence and rape crisis counselor at CONNECT said, “White Ribbon Day highlights the importance of boys and men accepting responsibility for the role they play in violence towards women and gender-based violence in order to change biases and change societal attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate and make excuses for violence.”
“The biggest part of this campaign is to get more men involved,” said Mr. Malowski. “Sexual assault and domestic violence are predominantly perpetrated by men, so the White Ribbon Day campaign is all about men stepping up and taking the initiative to end violence against women.”