“As a student, I remember being struck by how deeply Harry cared about what he taught. It was obvious that being a teacher and scholar was more than a job to him; it was a way to create a more just world. It truly mattered to him that you walked away from a class not only with more knowledge about topics like consent, racism, or masculinity, but that you also left with a greater commitment to doing something with that knowledge. He challenged us not just to learn, but to use what we learned to fight for a better world.”
—Ryan McGeough, former student of the late professor Harry Brod; assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Northern Iowa
Harry Wolf Brod taught what he lived and lived what he taught. One of the founding fathers of the academic study of men and masculinities, he died on June 16, 2017. A professor of sociology and humanities at the University of Northern Iowa, Brod was at home in Cedar Falls, Iowa, when he was stricken and died in the arms of his life partner, Karen Mitchell. He was 66.
Harry Brod’s personal and professional career overlapped in many ways. His works and writings on feminism, social justice, race and ethnicity went far beyond the lectures themselves. I first met Harry in 2009 in Cedar Falls, where he and colleagues were hosting the conference “Engaging Men in Prevention: Taking a Stand Against Gender Violence,” at the University of Northern Iowa. I had been invited to speak about men’s engagement work being conducted by the Sioux City, Iowa–based Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention.
Harry’s stature and strong intellectual prowess stood out immediately. He was kind and humble, displaying a quiet confidence mixed with gratitude and humility. Being relatively new to the field of engaging men in preventing gender violence, I knew of Harry Brod, but wasn’t fully aware of his prominence and reputation in the field of men and masculinities. That quickly changed and soon I was referring to him as treasured colleague.
Harry was deeply involved in a national and international scholarship and discourse within the interdisciplinary field of feminist studies of men and masculinities. University of Southern California colleague and friend, the sociology professor Mike Messner wrote, “It is difficult to overstate the importance and depth of Harry Brod’s foundational contributions to men’s engagements with feminism, both academic and movementbased. He was a deeply thoughtful and sophisticated scholar, a pioneer in feminist analyses of men and masculinities. I learned much from Harry’s writings, and I always received a fresh nugget of insight from him every time I met with him, or heard him deliver a talk. His ethical commitment to feminism and social justice was expressed in a lifetime of work as a scholar-activist. Harry’s impact is wide and deep.”
Harry’s books and writings reflected his broad range of interests and commitments. Among the books he authored or edited were: The Making of Masculinities: The New Men’s Studies (Routledge, 1987), A Mensch Among Men: Explorations in Jewish Masculinity (Crossing Press, 1988); White Men Challenging Racism: 35 Personal Stories, co-authored with Cooper Thompson and Emmett Schaefer (Duke University Press, 2003), Theorizing Masculinities, coedited with Michael Kaufman (Sage, 1994); The Legacy of the Holocaust: Children and the Holocaust (Jagiellonian University Press, 2002); Brother Keepers: New Perspectives on Jewish Masculinity, coedited with Rabbi Shawn Zevit (Men’s Studies Press, 2010); Superman Is Jewish?: How Comic Book Superheroes Came to Serve Truth, Justice and the Jewish-American Way (Free Press, 2012).
Harry was born in Berlin, Germany, and grew up in New York City. He said his core identity was that of a child of Holocaust survivors. Interviewed this past May by the Des Moines Register, he said, “If I see a documentary about other children of Holocaust survivors, I can finish their sentences before they get there…it permeates how I see and view the world.”
Harry dedicated his life to teaching and to causes of social justice. A Media Education Foundation film was made of his influential lecture Asking for It: The Ethics and Erotics of Sexual Consent. It has been incorporated internationally into sexual assault prevention education programs by colleges, universities and other institutions, including the U.S. Air Force.
Harry walked his talk, serving the local community and the state of Iowa in many ways—as director of the Iowa Regent Universities Men’s Gender Violence Prevention Institute, and on the boards of directors of Humanities Iowa and the Family and Children’s Council of Black Hawk County. Harry directed, led and facilitated campus workshops for faculty and staff on developing diversity and inclusion leadership skills through the UNI–National Coalition Building Institute. In addition, he served as a member of the Governor’s Task Force for Responsible Fatherhood.
In a conversation with his partner Karen after he died, she shared how Harry tried hard to model two simple strategies when dealing with conflict and stark differences among his students, colleagues, family members and associates of all kind. “Listen others into change,” he would say. Really hearing what the other person has to say—or does not say—was foundational for Harry in his approach to building relationships where difference occurred. Harry also believed in being a withstander for others in times of crisis, discrimination, rejection or harm. Standing with someone communicates love and support without diminishing their agency or self-determination, he believed, two practices he said were desperately needed in our country today.
For many of us on the University of Northern Iowa campus it has been disorienting not seeing this bigger-than-life figure ambling across campus or casually visiting with students and colleagues in the student union. Harry Brod epitomized the idea of a scholar-activist. He will be missed.