students in lounge

Story by Anthony Buenafe

Ten years ago, I was part of the inaugural Men’s Leadership Project at UVA. I didn’t realize it at the time, but joining MLP was one of the best decisions I made in college.

My name is Anthony Buenafe, proud member of the Class of 2008. I studied liberal arts and in hindsight, I probably spent far too much time involved with the student leadership scene and not enough time at Clemons or Alderman Library. However, if I had to go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. The experiences and lessons that I learned through student leadership were priceless – perhaps most importantly what I learned through the Men's Leadership Project (MLP).

For those who don’t know – MLP is a group of UVA men (the “Big Brothers”) who meet weekly to discuss men's issues and to mentor/interact with "Little Brothers" at Walker Elementary School. As a result of MLP, I expanded my understanding of masculinity across its spectrum (not buying into the narrow stereotypes of masculinity found in popular culture) and I gained a finer appreciation of how manhood is taught and learned. I may not remember every detail from MLP, but I’ll never forget that it was a “safe space,” where men helped each other to discuss and deepen their understanding of the tough, taboo topics that we are traditionally too scared to face.

In recent years, I found myself thinking about MLP and pushing myself to be a better man whenever I reached a new milestone. When I became a husband in 2013, I knew that I wanted to be the best husband I could be (and generally a good friend, ally, and advocate for my wife in any way she needed). When I became a father in 2015, I knew that I wanted to model healthy modes of masculinity to my son, in the hope that he becomes a better man and greater champion for women and men than I ever was (or will be). Anthony Buenafe at UVAThen a few months ago, when my wife told me we were going to have a baby girl, I felt a wave of pride, joy, and mixed emotions. I felt fear of raising a daughter in a world where “girls at the age of six in the United States already see themselves as sexual objects.” I felt renewed outrage for all the injustices protested at the Women’s March on January 21st. I felt despair that change is not happening fast enough to end sexual violence on college campuses. I felt shame that we do not have enough men working for change on behalf of our wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, aunts, etc. Those feelings have called me to action; let’s help our boys become the good men of tomorrow, so our girls will know a better world as the women of tomorrow.

If my daughter (and my nieces, let’s not forget them too) wind up attending UVA in the 2030s, they could face the same dangers and injustices that women at UVA have faced since they were first admitted in the 1970s. I choose not to accept that reality and I will move heaven and earth for my daughter and girls everywhere. We, as parents, should not fear our daughters becoming “1 in 4.” One dad alone can’t move heaven and earth on his own; but through groups like MLP, we have a better chance.

I’m not the first man to feel this way and I know that I won’t be the last. I want to see the Women’s Center empower more UVA men through MLP. UVA has an opportunity to generate a new ripple of hope, a movement that will transform and scale men’s leadership as a model to other University communities. To quote Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Let’s rally behind the Women’s Center and MLP and show the world what a dedicated group of Wahoos can do. To all the men reading this: if you find yourself nodding in agreement – let’s work together. If you want to connect with me, other like-minded men, leave a reply for us here. The same goes to the women reading this – if you find yourself nodding in agreement, reach out to us! And in the spirit of inclusivity and respect to all – if you are transgender and you find yourself nodding in agreement – reach out to us!

To close, let’s return to the title of this piece: am I a better man because of UVA? It’s too early to make that call, but I hope that I’m getting there. I am, however, certain about three things. By giving me MLP, (1) UVA helped me become more critical, constructive, and self-reflective about my manhood; (2) UVA helped me make a stronger commitment to teaching our sons how to be better men; and (3) UVA helped me find my voice and the confidence to stand up – and I am absolutely fired up for changing the world on behalf of my daughter and daughters everywhere. I think we need to ask ourselves: what is UVA doing to make all of its men into “better men?” and if you’re fed up with the status quo, what are you willing to do about it?