Sage Hill School student founds club to encourage male peers to join the conversation about ‘rape culture’


It was by chance that Ezugo Ononye found himself on the Sage Hill School campus the same weekend as a women’s empowerment summit in April last year.

After finishing work on a project, he happened upon GEMFest, a celebration of young women that encourages the pursuit of entrepreneurial interests, and noticed “how much fun everyone was having there and the positive impact it had on students.”

He decided to join the Girls Empowerment Movement chapter on campus to try to “make a difference” for the young women in his community.

He eventually turned his attention to his male peers.

Ezugo, a Sage Hill junior, continues to serve on the Newport Coast private high school’s GEM team in web development and as a financial co-manager. But he founded Boys Against Rape Culture in November to take on a larger conversation about “rape culture” and the male role in it.

The term “rape culture” emerged in the 1970s amid the second wave of feminism and is loosely defined as an atmosphere in which dominant societal ideologies trivialize or dismiss violence against women or blame them for it.

“A lot of people don’t look to men as allies to the [feminist] cause,” Ezugo said. “It shouldn’t be unusual to have a guy talk about problems that we’re perpetuating in our society. So, I felt that by starting BARC and working with GEM, I can show there a lot of male allies to the feminist cause.”

He said the club is a space for male students to talk about topics that normally would be considered taboo.

He knows the conversation can be uncomfortable, but that’s necessary, he said.

Meetings typically feature experts invited from UC Irvine and elsewhere in the community to speak to groups of about 10 to 15 students about rape culture. Previous topics of the meetings, which occur every two months, focused on sexual harassment in the workplace and at school and on consent and healthy relationships.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported in late 2018 that a quarter to as many as eight of every 10 women experience workplace sexual harassment.

The National Women’s Law Center stated on its website that nearly one in five undergraduate women experience sexual violence or attempted assaults in college and that about 31% of females ages 14 to 18 are victims of sexual violence or assault.

Feminist movements such as #MeToo and the Women’s March have gained traction in recent years.

“I think men should be very involved with conversations about rape culture,” Ezugo said. “I don’t think they should overpower women and take away from their stories, but I feel that men should have conversations and talk about these situations and give their view on them.”

Leslie Frankel, a Sage Hill junior and member of BARC, agreed.

“It is not only women who should be promoting their fellow women,” she wrote in an email. “If men help women in their path to women’s rights, it is a larger support group that is advocating for action.”

She said she feels safer on and off campus because of BARC, knowing there are males on campus who support “the safety of their female peers.” She added that the organization has empowered her to speak on behalf of her friends who “might not have the courage to do so themselves.”

For BARC member Zachary Decker, also a junior at Sage Hill, the club was an “entry to a deeper understanding of women’s struggles.” Since joining, he said, he has come to “face and understand” the movement and his place in helping the cause.

“A large part of the problem with the rape culture today is the stigma around bringing it up to talk about,” Zachary said. “I think it was great of [Ezugo] to take the first step in starting the conversation, and I’m sure it will inspire others to do the same.”

Ezugo said he has no plans to try to install chapters of Boys Against Rape Culture at other local campuses but that it’s a possibility. He said the club and GEM are considering a collaborative event where students could talk about the feminist movement.

“I feel that men are largely one of the causes of perpetuating rape culture and … that the media covers the men that [cause harm], not the men that are helping,” Ezugo said. “I wanted our Sage Hill community to be highlighted as helping with the #MeToo movement and feminism altogether.”