On his desk inside the UCI Police Department, Robert Buelow keeps a simple vase, lovely and fragile amid the usual cubicle clutter.
Buelow fashioned the vase with his own hands on a potter’s wheel. It’s a bit of comfort to someone who deals with the often ugly reality of violence and sexual assault.
In June, Buelow became the campus’s Violence Prevention Coordinator, a new position created by UCI Police and Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE). Among his duties: He’ll conduct anti-violence workshops and seminars on campus, work with the Rape Aggression Defense program and advise the UCI chapter of One in Four, a men’s group dedicated to preventing rape. The group was named after a disturbing national statistic: One in four female students nationwide will be victims of sexual assault or attempted assault during their college careers.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, rape and sexual assault are women’s issues,’” Buelow says. “But ‘one in four’ means this is a men’s problem, too. It means the chances of men knowing someone who’s a survivor is high. This could be their mom, their girlfriend, their sister, their friend. It’s time to get them working on prevention.”
As he speaks, a female co-worker walks by his cubicle, stops and gives him a thumbs-up sign. Buelow breaks out in a grin. Although he deals with serious, painful issues, he’s got an upbeat personality and uses humor to help get his message across.
“When I go into a classroom or meet with an organization, I don’t want students sitting there all defensive thinking, ‘Oh great, now he’s going to tell me I’m a rapist.’ I’m not there to point fingers. I’m there to talk about the problem, and what we can do about it.”
Buelow seeks to change the way students think about relationships and intimacy, educating them about consent and communication.
“We’re looking to change the culture. To help people take a stand against relationship violence. To teach them about respecting their partners,” he says. “We need to open men’s eyes.”
His eyes were opened when he enrolled in a women’s studies course at Penn State University.
“I’ve always been interested in gender, and how society shapes the rigid roles we’re in,” he says. “Women’s studies introduced me to issues of oppression.”
He served as co-president of the university’s chapter of Men Against Violence (he’s now on the national advisory board) and co-founded a chapter of One in Four. He graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology in May and a month later packed up his possessions – including his vase – and drove to California to join UCI.
Buelow says he likes working with clay because “it connects me to the Earth.” He’s already ordered a new potting wheel.
He says he likes working to prevent violence for a simple reason: “I’m just doing this because it’s the right thing to do.”