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Daring to Make the Future: Stony Brook Hosts First SUNY HeForShe Gender Equality Conference

Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Head of UN Women’s HeForShe Campaign, spoke about leaders who have inspired her commitment to making a difference before elaborating on how the United Nations hopes to inspire men and women across the globe to join together to achieve gender equality.

As one of 10 IMPACT University champions for the United Nation’s HeForShe Solidarity Movement, Stony Brook University and its President have committed to taking bold, life-changing action to achieve gender equality on its campus and beyond.

On March 3 and 4, 2016, Stony Brook University hosted the first SUNY-wide HeForShe Gender Equality Conference, with more than 130 attendees and 26 State University of New York campuses represented. The conference featured several keynote presentations, panel discussions and small group workshops aimed at finding ways to move the gender equality movement forward in all aspects of university life across the SUNY system. At this conference, Stony Brook faculty and staff shared many of the programs they have started this year to start working on that goal.

“The gender equality issues we face on a daily basis could not be more important or timely,” said Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD, President, Stony Brook University. “It is our hope that you take the ideas discussed here and bring them back to your campuses to stimulate further discussion,” he continued. “The work you do today is extraordinarily important, not just for Stony Brook and SUNY, but for all of America and the world.”

Charles L. Robbins, SUNY’s UN Women HeForShe Coordinator and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education, Stony Brook University, kicked off the conference and moderated several sessions. Also speaking were Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Head of UN Women’s HeForShe Campaign; Michael Kimmel, Executive Director, Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, Stony Brook University; Author Naomi Wolf, Visiting Lecturer, College of Arts and Sciences, Stony Brook University; and Sally Crimmins Villela, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Global Affairs, SUNY. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher appeared via a video message.

Charles L. Robbins, SUNY’s UN Women HeForShe Coordinator and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education, Stony Brook University, welcomed attendees and outlined Stony Brook’s role in the HeForShe Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality.

“Hosting this conference is a watershed moment for us; a landmark opportunity to bring all of you together to focus on the issues,” said Robbins in his opening remarks. “We see this as a beginning. We hope this starts a dialogue that continues and that works its way into the fabric of the SUNY system.”

What is HeForShe?

Thursday’s session began with Dean Robbins sharing a recap of what Stony Brook has accomplished thus far on campus since joining the HeForShe movement. He described an inclusive movement for people of all genders working for equality of all people. His review was followed by a look at the history of HeForShe by Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Head of UN Women’s HeForShe Campaign. She detailed the UN’s inspiration to start the movement, where it is now and where it is going.

“HeForShe ideals are for equality and justice. HeForShe is about bringing all of us together to create a shared vision for humanity. The movement is built on a simple idea that what we share is much more powerful than what divides us. We all want the same things, even when they remain unspoken,” she said.

Nyamayaro outlined in three broad steps what the UN has learned about how to recreate a movement that has the potential to change the world:

  • First, know your role. “Because we know that it is people that create movements and that movements create impact, we play the role of facilitator and create the platform to help people find home-grown solutions.“
  • Second, define a clear and simple call to action. The HeForShe movement began with an online platform asking for men to take the simple step of signing up to show their support of gender equality. More than 1 billion men and woman have been counted all over the world and the number grows daily.
  • Third, focus on generating results, creating partnerships and have an exit strategy. HeForShe recruited 30 IMPACT champions from governments, corporations and universities to collaborate with them to enact change. With their help, the conversation has moved beyond the web and into real action. “Commitments by our IMPACT champions have inspired us,” she noted, giving the example of Iceland, which has committed to equal pay for all citizens by 2022.

“Be on the right side of history,” she concluded. “The fact that Stony Brook has trail blazed to become an inaugural champion assures me you all believe in gender equality and you want to be part of the solution. You want to make the change. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, ‘When it’s better for everyone, it’s better for everyone.’ HeForShe is about making it better for everyone so let’s make it better for everyone. Let’s dare to make the future.”

Engaging Men in the Solution

During Friday’s keynote sessions, Michael Kimmel, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, discussed ways in which to best engage men to participate in the struggle for gender equality. He also detailed the importance of researchers and activists working together and how the center can help provide activists with the data they need to make a difference.

“For me the beginning of the conversation is to get men to engage with the idea of gender in the first place,” Kimmel noted. “Most men don’t think this is about them. When you say gender equality, they say it’s a conversation about women. Most men don’t even know that is important to us as it is to woman. Gender remains relatively invisible. Most men don’t think gender has anything to do with them.”

Kimmel outlined why men often don’t engage in the conversation. “First, we don’t think it is about us. Second, we are afraid it is a zero sum game (if women win, men will lose),” he said. “We have to bring the evidence to show men this is not true and to open the door so they feel they are stakeholders and that it is also about them.”

Four Stony Brook University students shared their views on achieving gender equality. From left: undergraduate students Michelle Olakkengil, Krista Pullen and James Vassallo; and graduate student Lauren LaMagna.

One key way to engage men is to make the connection personal by reminding them of the relationships they already have with woman — as a son, brother, father, husband, friend. “We often miss the opportunity when we talk solely about men and women in an adversary model” Kimmel adds. “We are not just men. Every man in this room knows what it feels like to love women and we need to engage men around those connections.”

The conference concluded with a recap of the ideas discussed during the afternoon panels on what colleges could bring back to their campuses to foster gender equality and engage men. All groups agreed that student involvement would be key.

Conference Highlights

  • Elizabeth Nyamayaro, head of UN Women’s HeForShe Campaign, announced she is eager to do a SUNY Campus tour and will work with Charlie Robbins, SUNY’s UN Women HeForShe Coordinator on the details and schedule.
  • Stony Brook’s Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities will serve as the knowledge hub for gender equality, engaging men, generating cutting-edge knowledge for HeForShe IMPACT champions and the movement more broadly. Visit for more details.
  • Naomi Wolf, visiting lecturer, offered an important view of 21st Century Feminism through which all people can achieve what they are capable of and achieve equality.
  • Through SUNY’s involvement, HeForShe can spread the gender equality movement to more than half a million students and nearly 90,000 faculty and staff.
  • All featured sessions of the conference were filmed and will be shared on SB’s HeForShe site. It is hoped that these videos will be used to kickstart conversations about gender across the country and the globe. Visit

By Shelley Catalano

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