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Learning to become better men

Forty-two percent of college graduates in the United — States are men, down from almost 50 percent in 1979.

— But young men are not just struggling in academia. Several highly publicized local incidents in the past year - sexual assaults, violence against women, drunk driving and gun use - underscore the issues some young men have with drug and alcohol abuse, violence and negative attitudes toward women.

There were 22 sex crimes committed against women disclosed — through the Women's Resource Center's anonymous reporting system at Southern — Oregon University during the 2003-04 academic year.

A trio of young men, some of whom had been associated — with the SOU football program, were arrested in Talent for armed robbery — last year.

In June, a former SOU wrestler allegedly assaulted the — late actress and comedian Joanie McGowan a block from her home as she — walked her bike home from a party at 2:30 in the morning. Charges were — dropped in that case after McGowan committed suicide.

It was McGowan who finally said something should be done. — In the weeks following her attack, she met with community members to discuss — therapy and support for those accused of violent crimes. Nine months after — she was attacked and almost two months after McGowan took her own life, — a pilot program for college men emphasizing personal responsibility exists — at SOU.

"There's a problem here that jails can't fix," said Dennis — Mead-Shlkaly, an Ashland counselor who has worked since June to create — the Accountability in Men program.

Three weeks ago, AIM pulled in 18 male students involved — with student government, the football program and leadership in the residence — halls for an intensive three-day, 17-hour training that examined the young — men's beliefs and values. The course encouraged discussions about where — students obtain their values, what they stood for, what accountability — is and what it means to be accountable. Question-and-answer sessions had — the young men both asking and being asked the questions. The course included — a segment on rape mythology and a discussion led by a woman in her 40s — who had been raped as a young woman.

"It was all designed to make good choices at crossroads." — Mead-Shlkaly said. "It's not that we want to shame anyone. These are deep-seeded — issues that lead to violence."

Male leaders from the Ashland community, the university — and several SOU football coaches led discussions that urged the young — men, most of whom were ages 18-22, to speak openly about the ways they've — been injured both physically and emotionally, and what they do with that — pain.

"Male students need support too," said John Fitton, the — associate director of student support services at SOU who helped coordinate — the training. "These are big issues."

Fitton explained men tend to get angry instead of admitting — they feel hurt or afraid, which can lead to violence.

"We taught them there are more productive ways to deal — with it," Fitton said. "It really was a collaborative community-SOU effort — to try to address some of these challenging issues for male college students."

The program was a unique way to reach male students, who — Fitton says may not access emotional and academic support on campus as — frequently as women because lack of male counselors, male-centered programs — and discussion about male issues.

"In order for it to be effective, I knew it had to come — out of the work and energies of men," said Deltra Ferguson, the coordinator — of the Women's Resource Center at SOU who sat on the AIM advisory committee. — "In a roundabout way, it has to do with violence prevention."

At the training, some of the young men had grown up in — single-parent households or with abusive parents and maybe learned dysfunctional — behavior early in life. Others had more stable childhoods, but now are — having a tough time making ends meet, balancing school with work and athletics. — While the young men discussed their lives, leaders such as SOU head football — coach Jeff Olson also revealed personal stories.

"It was experiential and talking about issues." Fitton — said. "This wasn't the norm for these guys. It was brand new for many — of the guys and it had a deep effect."

Although young men participating in the training wished — to remain anonymous, before-and-after surveys showed a marked increase — in accountability and knowledge that indicated the program had at least — a short-term impact on the participants.

"It's just a start," Fitton said. "We're not doing [the — survey] six months after the program, but the results were significant."

However, AIM organizers know that for the training to — make a visible impact on the community, it must continue. There is talk — of holding another training during spring term and then working with incoming — students in the fall. Olson would like to see all football players entering — his program - both freshmen and transfer students - participate in a similar — program.

The organizers of the AIM program plan to retool before — the next training, which has yet to be scheduled. Fitton would like to — see a more diverse group of students and they may restructure the program — to avoid such long days - the men spent more than six hours at the training — on Friday night and about 10 hours there on Saturday.

"We could easily do four to six trainings a year." Mead-Shlkaly — said. "The whole administration is behind this."

The first AIM training was funded through a $3,500 endowment — to the university and matching funds from the student government. Program — leaders are looking into outside grants and community fundraising to sponsor — future events.

For more information about AIM, call Mead-Shlkaly at 488-7800.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 — x 3019 or .