Baking a difference

Posted Oct. 28, 2008, at 5:22 p.m.

University of Maine senior Andrew Loring woke up early Monday morning. He made a batch of oatmeal cookies from scratch and carried them to his classes later in the day.

Justin Averill, also a UMaine senior, pulled out a box of brownie mix Sunday night. After a quick reminder from his girlfriend to use a toothpick to test the brownies’ doneness, he baked a batch he too brought to school Monday.

Both students are members of the university’s track-and-field team. They also belong to Male Athletes Against Violence, an on-campus group with 10 members from various varsity sports teams.

And they’re both bakers, at least for the moment, as the campus student-athlete group tries to draw attention to domestic violence issues this month — October is Domestic Violence Awareness month — while breaking down stereotypes about men and women — and baking.

“I’ve been carting this Hannaford bag around all morning, bringing these cookies to every class,” Loring said after he took the aluminum-foil wrapped package of cookies out of the plastic sack. “No one can believe it when I said I baked.”

The brownies and oatmeal cookies were a way for MAAV, which was founded in 1994 by Sandra Caron, a UM professor of family relations and human sexuality, to attract male students who the group hoped would sign its Men’s Pledge Against Violence. Signers pledge to educate themselves on domestic violence issues, to act as positive role models and to examine their own actions honestly.

The baked goods were free, although the group was asking for donations that eventually will go to an as-yet-undetermined local charity that supports domestic violence education and awareness.

“It’s one of the ideas we came up with at the beginning of the semester, just to reach out and show that we’re not stereotypical males who can’t bake, can’t cook,” said Averill, a South Portland native who is a student coordinator of the group along with football player Jovan Belcher.

The pledge also calls for men to be aware of pre-existing beliefs, stereotypes or rumors that may alter judgments.

And one of those prejudices may be the baking thing.

Men don’t bake; men grill. Right?

“I really think that it puts a different perspective on people,” said Loring, who is from Bangor. “People view athletes as big, strong people, so when they see that we’re baking, they’re really surprised.”

Neither Loring nor Averill are small guys. Averill, who throws the discus and hammer for the track team, is 6-foot-2 and weighs about 220 pounds. Loring, a javelin thrower, is 6-1 and 199 pounds.

Senior journalism major Seth Poplaski of Winterport, who happened to be in the Memorial Union on Monday when the student-athletes were giving away the sweets, said there’s something to the stereotype that guys — especially athletes — don’t bake.

“If I looked at these two guys, I wouldn’t think they’d be good bakers,” Poplaski said after signing the pledge but declining a baked good because he’s watching his figure. “It’s good to know that we’re turning the tide here. … It’s very impressive, I’m not gonna lie. There aren’t many men in the world who can bake. I can cook, but baking is hard.”

Loring and Averill had their small struggles in preparing their baked goods. Averill remembered to use a toothpick to test his brownies, but found they had to go back into the oven for a few minutes for a little more cooking. The brownies also crumbled a bit when he cut into them.

Loring, who used a recipe he found on the Web for his cookies, was worried the final product wouldn’t taste good.

Both amateur bakers can relax. The brownies were appropriately fudgy. The cookies had a nice flavor and spice to them, even if they were a bit dry.

Treats other athletes made last week were apparently palatable, too. Last week, UMaine hockey player Keith Orsini made cupcakes and Adam Farkes, a quarterback on the UMaine football team, made cookies.

MAAV is a well-known group for its award-winning posters, which have been distributed across the country through the NCAA. Group members also made the rounds of Orono and Old Town elementary schools in the last few weeks, reading from “Hands Are Not for Hitting,” a children’s book by Martine Agassi.

“The way I look at it, the only way we’re going to change the perception of males acting violently is to start from when the kids are young,” Averill said. “It’s hard to change when you’re an adult. I think this has more of an effect.”

MAAV is also thinking about putting together a presentation about domestic violence issues the group can show to students in the different dormitories. The student-athletes are also giving away stress balls and bracelets with the group’s name as a way to continue marketing the message.

Baking definitely took the guys out of their element, whether that’s in the classroom or on the playing field.

“I want to try one,” Loring said of his cookies. “But I’m kind of scared.”

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