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GRC launches new gender group

Katie Peralta | Friday, February 8, 2008

In accordance with its recent efforts to examine sexuality and faith of the Notre Dame student community, the Gender Relations Center (GRC) is sponsoring a men’s support group, set to have its first meeting Feb. 13.

It will meet every Wednesday through April 30.

The group, called Men of Strength (MOS), is the brainchild of second year Masters of Divinity graduate student Brian Vassel, who is also a GRC intern.

Vassel, who minored in theology and English during his undergraduate years at Notre Dame, came up with the idea for MOS last spring.

Masters of Divinity students are required to complete three years of field education after graduation, Vassel said. His first year credit came from his tenure in Carroll Hall as an assistant rector, his second year credit will come from creating MOS.

Vassel said he thought of the support group after considering his undergraduate experience at Notre Dame.

“Sexuality and spirituality came up a lot,” he said. “In this group, men can come to integrate their faith and sexuality.”

The name of the group comes from the passage in 2 Corinthians 12:10, which reads: “For when I am weak, then I am strong,” said Heather Rakoczy, director of the GRC and supervisor of Vassel’s initiative since August.

The two researched if Vassel’s group would interest Notre Dame students would be interested by interviewing undergraduate men.

“We wanted to get the pulse of the Notre Dame culture,” Rakoczy said.

After receiving enough positive feedback, the pair planned the implementation of the group early last fall.

“There are three main thrusts of the group,” Vassel said, “Share, pray and support.”

While the group is rooted strongly in its Catholic tradition, it’s open to men of all faith backgrounds, Vassel said.

“All men struggle with various things,” Rakoczy said, citing issues such as masturbation and pornography. “Issues surface in faith sharing groups like [MOS].”

Rakoczy said she has been overseeing the organization of the group.

“It is going to be a kind of ritualized layout,” she said. “[It includes] an opening prayer, disclosure of personal stories, discussion and a closing prayer.

“Men of Strength will work to redefine masculinity and examine what kind of strengths define a man,” Rakoczy said.

The group has not begun its meetings yet, but it has advertised through posters and dining hall announcements.

MOS is unique in that it’s a completely private organization.

“It is a safe and confidential environment,” Rakoczy said.

Vassel said he is open to feedback on the group and wants the men involved to feel welcome to both meetings and emailing him.

Rakoczy said the e-mail system has worked well so far, and they saw a student express interest before the group was publicized.

Vassel plans to weigh the opinions of men who attend meetings in order to decide on the course of the group. He and Rakoczy plan to meet at the end of this academic year to assess the group’s progress.

At this post-semester group evaluation, Vassel and Rakoczy will discuss the future leadership of the group.

“We want to leave some kind of legacy so that the group is not solely dependant on me,” Vassel said.

The MOS is not the first group that the GRC has sponsored for men. The Center sponsored the group Men Against Violence, which brought the anti-sexism activist Jackson Katz to campus in November.