Voices of Men renamed, revamped to broaden anti-violence reach
La Crosse organization aims to end domestic violence, sex abuse
LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – The Coulee Region Voices of Men, whose mission was persuading men to fight domestic violence and sexual abuse of women, had a couple of reasons for changing its name, its executive director acknowledges.
For one thing, it sounded too patriarchal, said Tom Berkedal, who was involved with the Fox Valley Voices of Men when he lived in Appleton, Wis. He started the Coulee Region Voices in 2017 after moving back to La Crosse, where he had lived previously for 31 years.
“Men don’t just come in and save the day,” Berkedal said in an interview, adding that roughly 95 percent of the perpetrators of violence and abuse are men.
After Berkedal’s return to La Crosse, there was no reason to remain tethered to the Fox Valley name, so the Coulee Region group changed its name to LevelUP La Crosse — A Partnership to END Domestic and Sexual Violence.
The Voices moniker also left the impression that only men were involved, although several committee members were women, as is the case with LevelUP.
Committee member Kaycie Green, executive director of the Women’s Fund of Greater La Crosse, said LevelUP also “calls in men to step up and address the issue” of violence against and sexual assault of women.
“For a long time, women had been the ones to address domestic violence … (even though) women were not the perpetrators,” said Green, who also had been a Voices committee member. “It’s been labeled a women’s issue.”
Groups such as Voices and LevelUP signal a redirection to a human issue that involves both genders, she said.
Berkedal credits Green with suggesting the title LevelUP, a gaming term that indicates rising to the next level. The group announced the change in November.
“Partnership is important because we do need to have men and women,” he said.
“Selecting committee members was purposeful, to reflect the community, including LGBTQ, Hmong, African-American” and other segments of society, Berkedal said.
“We’ve had great buy-in from all parts of the community,” including the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration-led Task Force to Eradicate Modern Slavery, other rights groups and schools, among others, he said.
The group hopes to start a pilot program in the fall for middle schools and eventually, create a K-12 curriculum with age-appropriate messages on the topic, Berkedal said.
“That will be huge if we can do that,” he said.
Another goal is to pair college and high school students, he said, adding, “My hope is that college kids can mentor high schoolers.”
The group, which had a major presentation last fall, plans another Call to Action Nov. 10 at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Berkedal said.
LevelUP meets on the third Tuesdays of the month and is forming three subcommittees — development, community engagement and community awareness, he said. Its fiscal agent is New Horizons Shelter and Outreach Centers Inc., a shelter for individuals and families who have experienced domestic and sexual abuse. Eventually, it will become its own 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations.
Other committee members besides Berkedal and Green include representatives New Horizons, the Family and Children’s Center, UWL, Logistics Health Inc., the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Gundersen Health System and Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare, among others.
“Our intent is to do more than just an annual event, Berkedal said. “We look at this as an evolutionary year.”
More information about LevelUP is available on its website.