By Laura Woodward
The Ryerson student who plans to start a “men’s issues awareness” group on campus is beginning the process to get recognized by the students’ union.
Kevin Arriola, a fourth-year politics and governance student, will be spending the next two weeks drafting a constitution and collecting signatures to obtain Ryerson student group status.
“Men have issues just as women [do],” Arriola said. “This group is just a response to a growing demand for a group that will cater to the needs of men and boys, in particular issues where men and boys are disproportionately affected.”
These issues include suicide, homelessness, high incarceration rates, an increase of boys becoming illiterate and unfair judicial practices.
His group started at the end of September in the form of a Reddit post, where Arriola announced “the beginning of the new men’s issues awareness society.”
On Oct. 2, Arriola met with Leatrice O’Neil, the campus groups administrator, to discuss what is required to start a student group. The application process includes gathering 20 signatures from Ryerson students interested in the group, as well as finding three students willing to take on executive responsibilities.
Arriola must also propose a constitution outlining the group’s objectives, structure and membership, and pitch five ideas for student events.
Currently, Arriola is in the process of looking for co-executives.
“The main issue right now is that a lot of [students] know our page and say, ‘Oh I totally support your group,’ but they also say they don’t want to be publicly associated with it because of the repercussions they would have socially,” Arriola said.
Ryerson YouTuber Alexandra Godlewski — known online as Alexandra Blue — is one of these students who has faced such repercussions as a woman supporting the proposed men’s issues group.
“People are starting to see me as radical because they think that I don’t acknowledge women’s issues and that’s never been my intention, I’ve always wanted to be fair and equal,” Godlewski said.
Godlewski posts opinion videos about gender politics, which averaged around 8,000 views per video in the last 10 months. She previously called herself a feminist but received critical responses from men in the community regarding a feminist video she made. She said she has learned from these critics and has since begun to identify as a gender egalitarian.
Godlewski supports the group and the environment where men can openly discuss their issues.
But Ryerson’s board that approves student groups may not see it in the same light.
“[O’Neil] did warn us about the possibility of this not getting past the committee, given how the last group was treated,” Arriola said.
In 2013, a men’s issues group was denied student group status because their group’s constitution went against a Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) policy of avoiding misogyny.
Arriola said he is not in association with members behind these previous attempts, but rather in collaboration with University of Toronto’s (UofT) men’s issue awareness club and the external organization, Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE).
CAFE held an event on Ryerson campus in 2014, but required $1,800 in additional security because their past events had been met with chaotic protests.
Jennie Pearson, a coordinator for the centre for women and trans people, said she tries not to have too much interaction with CAFE for the safety of those working and volunteering in the centre.
Pearson said that the centre for women and trans people already addresses the issues that Arriola plans to discuss in his men’s group, so there is no need for a men’s group.
“Our work does include and involves men, looking at masculinity and how the patriarchy can have a negative impact on men’s lives as well,” Pearson said.
Gaining student group status would mean that the group gets a budget, access to space on Ryerson campus and has an association with Ryerson. But Pearson said that those involved in the men’s issues awareness group may not even be predominantly students, but rather the CAFE community or school alumni.
U of T’s men’s issues awareness president, Denise Fong, graduated from U of T 11 years ago.
“I think what’s really important is asking, ‘Is there a student need for this? Do Ryerson students think that [a men’s group is] something that’s lacking? Or is it just a bunch of 50-year-old men who want [Ryerson] space and resources?” Pearson said.
But Arriola said that CAFE has actually helped put him in contact with interested Ryerson students.
“We’re not a hate group, we’re not trying to raise war on any other groups here, we hope to one day work with other groups on common causes. We hope to work with women’s groups, trans groups and race groups on issues that intersect with one another,” Arriola said.
This is the first time a men’s group will apply for student group status under the newly elected RSU.
“Before we had a students’ union that had a very narrow understanding of gender issues,” Arriola said. “We think that the new student union will be more open to us, they have promised to remain neutral.”
But Rabia Idrees, current RSU vice-president equity, said that this is a misunderstanding — the RSU is not neutral, but rather has an equity mandate.
“This new RSU does want to let a lot more students get student group status but again, but if this group isn’t equal … that’s not something we would support,” Idrees said. “As a student union we have to actually help move student issues, not stay non-partisan, but stay productive on any issue on campus.”
Idrees said this group falls under the men’s rights activism umbrella — which takes away the voice from feminists and advocates for men having anything women have.
“That’s the difference between equality and equity. Equity means that just because someone has something and you don’t have it, it’s not that something has been taken away from you. On campus we need more equity than equality,” Idrees said.
With files from Emma Cosgrove
TIMELINE OF MEN’S ISSUES AT RYERSON
MARCH 4, 2013
RSU adopts a new policy rejecting the concept of misandry (ingrained prejudice against men), outlining new restrictions for student groups. The policy comes in response to controversial men’s issues movements taking shape on campuses across Ontario.
March 12, 2013
The Eyeopener publishes an editorial by Allyssia Alleyne in support of a proposed men’s issues group. “If feminism can secure the vote for women, bring in awesome workplace harassment laws and ensure cheap and affordable birth control, it can handle a group of people who just want to talk.”
March 15, 2013 8
Argir Argirov and Sarah Santhosh present their men’s issues group platform to a panel of seven RSU members. Hours later they are denied group status via email.
FEB. 6, 2014
Ryerson hosts a cafe event, hiring $1,800 worth of security to monitor protesters during their discussion called “Are men obsolete?”
CAFE is granted charitable status by the Canada Revenue Agency.
SEPT. 26, 2015
Kevin Arriola launches the unofficial Ryerson Men’s Issues Awareness Society with the creation of a REDDIT page. He will soon meet with the RSU to discuss the ratification of the group.