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JERROD KOON Realizing that condemning violence wasn’t enough, a graduate student turned to action and enlisted fellow men.

Tired of feeling helpless and pessimistic, University of Iowa student Jerrod Koon decided to step it up two years ago. The rest is history.

Since turning a tentative idea into the Men’s Anti-Violence Council, Koon has strived to teach men that they can be part of the solution to end violence against women. The group counters the beliefs that feed violence and provides resources that teach bystanders how to intervene.

“If we want to prevent violence, we need to challenge language, attitudes, and behaviors that create violence and allow it to continue,” Koon says.

A native of Parkersburg, W.Va., Koon received his BA in psychology from Wheeling Jesuit University in 2003, followed by a master’s degree in community counseling from Shippensburg University in 2007. His master’s thesis examined the effect of the college experience on men, finding that they rarely engaged in discussions about masculinity and showed little understanding of how masculinity impacts their lives and relationships.

Koon, who is the first person in his family to go to college, decided to pursue a doctoral degree in counseling psychology at the UI College of Education. He’s currently in his third year of the program.

Asked to write an April 2008 Iowa City Press-Citizen column after a string of sexual attacks in downtown Iowa City, Koon realized he was tired of complaining about the severity and prevalence of violence against women.

“Halfway through writing the article, I realized that I had never been taught what to do besides complain, blame others, or deny that it’s my problem,” says Koon, noting that people in his life have been directly affected by violence and sexual assaults. “I couldn’t point to one thing I was doing to make a difference.”

Koon decided it was time to get involved and applied to volunteer with the UI Women’s Resource and Action Center (WRAC). Not only did he get a chance to volunteer—the center offered him a job in May 2008.

WRAC used grant funds earmarked for violence prevention to hire Koon to help form what would eventually become the Men’s Anti-Violence Council. Although WRAC has had other male volunteers and interns, Koon is the center’s first male paid employee.

To date, 16 council members have gone through 20 hours of training to facilitate workshops on bystander intervention and mentoring. Since its creation, group members have spoken to more than 800 people on campus and in the community about violence prevention, healthy masculinity, and bystander interventions.

Every year, the group participates in the White Ribbon Campaign, the largest men’s anti-violence effort in the world, and has hosted film viewings and discussions on campus.

“Men haven’t been challenged to get involved,” Koon says. “We’re trying to engage them and teach them the skills they need to be helpful.”

In addition, the council—one of few on college campuses around the country—has teamed up with Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa to engage college men in preventing sexual assault and violence. Rape is the most common violent crime on college campuses, and estimates indicate that more than 1,000 rapes occur every year on a campus the size of Iowa’s, Koon says.

He says the council is working on original programming and collaborating with existing initiatives to address violence in the community. While he hopes that many people have opportunities to discuss violence prevention, Koon emphasizes that even a small number of leaders sets a powerful example for others.

“It only takes a few people to make a real difference in a group,” he says. “If we want to prevent violence, we need to stop reacting and start thinking of solutions.”

Koon says that while he feels the council has helped many people, he knows it’s made a personal impact on him.

The council has given him more confidence to voice his opinions, and he now sees himself continuing to facilitate outreach and violence prevention on a college campus, perhaps through a counseling center.

“It has been really fulfilling for me,” Koon says. “It has affected me just as much as the volunteers or participants.”

Story by Ashton Shurson; Photo by Tim Schoon

November 16, 2009