As I read Felecia Commodore’s piece, “Black Sororities and Violence Against Women Awareness”, I realized that men cannot sit on the sidelines as the national conversation about domestic violence persists, whether it is during Domestic Violence Awareness Month or the other 11 months of the year. Those of us in Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, and Iota Phi Theta cannot pass up the opportunity to lead this important conversation. We alumni members cannot pass up the opportunity to educate our college brothers about what it means to truly value women. If so many of us can be so steadfast in protecting our mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, wives, etc. why can we not do the same for other women who are so valued by their families?
There are five things I believe black fraternities–especially those of the Divine Nine–can do to help promote awareness about both domestic, dating, and sexual violence. Many thanks to my wife Halima, who is a Zeta Phi Beta woman, for her assistance on this piece. She is a charitable giving professional who works closely with the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation, an agency that provides services for domestic violence victims.
1. Create a Barbershop-Like Atmosphere to Openly Discuss Domestic Violence
It may now seem cliché but the barbershop is one of the safest spaces for men to openly discuss sensitive issues in a masculine way. The black fraternal bond is especially a catalyst for this kind of healthy conversation. Creating this safe space at chapter meetings and informal gatherings allows us to challenge each other with questions like, “What would you do to someone abusing your mother, your daughter, your sister or your niece?” In other words, it helps us to hear ourselves and our brothers discuss our attitudes toward women.
2. Create a Culture That Truly Values Women
Women enjoy attending fraternity events where we cater to them but for real (for real, for real) we have to go beyond roses and chocolates to show that we value women. Opening doors, serving food, and giving women gifts are the beginning. Go to the next level. Correct brothers who are rude to women, educate brothers who do not understand how their actions may negatively affect women, and take notes from brothers who show genuine care and respect for the women in their lives. Also, take time publicly recognize women who achieve great things, especially if they had to cut through gender discrimination to achieve those great things.
3. Produce Domestic Violence Awareness Events
Fraternity chapters across the country already do this. Bravo! Going forward, chapters should continue their efforts and always remember to include domestic violence professionals and agencies in these events. On college campuses, black fraternity chapters should consider visiting their respective health centers for consultation about hosting relevant, meaningful events. Most importantly, produce events that provide safe spaces for women to express their thoughts and empower each other.
In 2013, the City of Dallas produced a huge men’s rally for domestic violence awareness. I was pleased to see all of our Divine Nine fraternities support the rally but let’s figure out where else we are needed. Some domestic violence shelters need help with things such as facility repairs and beautification. We can also volunteer for organizations such as batterers intervention programs. Volunteering gives us the opportunity to learn from professionals about other dimensions of domestic violence.
5. Partner with Women Beyond Events
It’s great to partner with sororities and other women’s organizations for events but we know women in our personal circles who are victims of domestic, dating, and sexual violence especially on college campuses. We have an opportunity to use the influence of our brotherhood to protect women. Instead of gossiping and/or “pleading the Fifth,” consult with professionals to get victims help. Ultimately, the best thing is for us to educate ourselves. There are great resources for men such as the Collin College Dignity Initiative, the Red Flag Campaign, and the Domestic Violence Hotline. Please share any resource you come across with your frat brothers. Most importantly, take notice of the countless stories on social media and the stories you hear personally; and share them with brothers.
The biggest lesson I have learned about domestic, dating, and sexual violence against women is the situations are hardly ever obvious. Women who are victims hide their pain for reasons many of us men can’t understand. That means there is a good chance that a woman you care about has a domestic violence story that you have never heard. While black fraternities can’t do everything, women do appreciate our willingness to do something.