Published: June 21, 2013
A professor from Virginia will spend the upcoming academic year teaching courses on gender at the Air Force Academy to combat sexual assaults.
Christopher Kilmartin, a psychology instructor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., will serve as a visiting professor at the academy, teaching "Men and Masculinity" in the fall and "Interpersonal Violence" in the spring.
Neither course is required of students. But so many have registered for the lone section of "Men and Masculinity" that the academy is considering adding another, said Col. Gary Packard, head of the academy's Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership.
"When I looked at his background, he became my No. 1 candidate" for the department's visiting professor position, Packard said. "We need him here to deal with these issues, especially those related to masculinity."
Kilmartin will conduct research and consult with leaders during his time at the academy, Packard said.
Kilmartin has previously worked with the U.S. Naval Academy to revise its sexual assault and harassment prevention curriculum. He also wrote a script for an Army training film on the same topic.
His knowledge of military culture "gives him credibility right from the start," Packard said.
Another trait Packard says will serve Kilmartin well at the academy: his sense of humor.
Kilmartin is also a stand-up comedian.
"I think the cadets will gravitate toward him," Packard said. "More importantly, I think commanders and leadership will connect with him as well."
During Kilmartin's two-plus decades of teaching courses on masculinity, the majority of his students have been females.
That's less likely to be the case at the academy, where the majority of students are male.
"One of the biggest struggles in teaching that area is getting men into the room," said Kilmartin, the author of the textbook "The Masculine Self."
"The way gender roles are constructed, a lot of men don't feel comfortable expressing interest in it. It takes a pretty self-aware man to get interested in gender."
Kilmartin's fall class will examine how masculinity is constructed, how men are socialized and how individuals form gender ideology.
"There's a lot of theory in the first part" of the class, he said. "The second part includes discussion of men's issues: work, mental health, physical health, relationships, sexuality, violence, and contemporary topics like the prison problem, pornography and prostitution."
As part of their coursework, Kilmartin will assign his students to journal about gender stereotypes they observe in their everyday lives.
"It's a really powerful assignment, he said. "By mid-semester, they realize it's everywhere. Then they get mad at me because they think they can't watch TV anymore.
"Before, they tend to look at things uncritically. When they get a new pair of lenses to look at the world, it can be annoying. You can pay a price for it, but it can be of enormous benefit as well."
His spring class will offer an opportunity to examine violence committed by males, a topic that is often overlooked because "people in dominate groups have the luxury of having their identity remain invisible," Kilmartin said.
It will also examine the origins and consequences of, and remedies to, interpersonal violence, he added.
Kilmartin's short-term goal is to increase sexual assault reporting rates at the academy so that perpetrators, most of whom are serial offenders, are stopped, he said.
"I'm not going to come in there and do magic, but I'd like to do something," he said. "Sometimes we forget that these are young adults, that many of them don't have a lot of experience with relationships and sexuality. We forget that because we put them in uniform and they look like these machines and we think they have it all together. But they're kids in some ways. We need to talk with them like kids."
His ultimate goal is to "take a public health approach and reduce the incidence of sex assault at the academy and the military at large."
Arming cadets with knowledge on the topics of gender and violence isn't just the right thing to do, he said.
It's good for their careers.
"We wouldn't dream of sending leaders out into the world without computer skills, management skills, leadership abilities," he said. "There is no way any commander is going to get out in the world and not have to deal with people in his or her command who are women, who are gay men, lesbians, maybe even someone transgendered.
"If you don't understand these different forms of identity and how they play out in your organization, you're just not going to be a good commander."
During the 2011-2012 academic year, sex assault reports involving Air Force Academy cadets increased by about 50 percent over the previous academic year, accounting for the majority of reported assaults across the nation's three military academies, according to a Defense Department report released late last year.
Cadets have attended annual sexual assault prevention training since 2005. An increase in reporting rates is a sign that those training sessions are working, victim advocate at the academy told The Gazette in January.