A research conference covering topics like transgender rights and gender based violence starts Mar. 22 on the campus of the University of South Dakota.
Hosted by USD's women, gender and sexuality program, this year's theme, "Cultures of Change" includes a lecture by a man who witnessed a drive by mass shooting that targeted women.
In 2014, Siavash "Vash" Zohoori, a student at the University of California - Santa Barbara, was out on his bike getting food.
After grabbing his order, Vash heard popping sounds that reminded him of firecrackers. Thinking nothing of it, he decided to head in the opposite direction of the noise and back to his dorm on campus.
At a stop sign, Vash noticed a BMW approaching. It stopped on the side of the road nearest to him.
"And I thought to myself, he's probably just going to drop off his friend or something, but before I knew it, he rolled down his window and he took three shots and he shot the person in front of me and he took a couple more shots and shot his friend," says Zohoori.
Vash and others took cover in a nearby 7/11. Here they watched the man in the BMW shoot more people, each time targeting women.
After the experience, Vash began to try and understand why this event happened. After doing research, he found many mass shootings are committed by males who are compensating for a perceived lack of masculinity.
Often, Vash says, before committing their crime, these same people are subjected to negativity within their society. Vash advocates listening instead of labeling.
"And if we're able to listen to them, and give them a space that they don't have in their community because they're always called negative names or they're yelled at or they're called losers, then they'll be able to actually grow, and they won't have to cope with being outcasted and having to prove themselves because they'll have a community that's compassionate and empathic," says Zohoori.
Vash says his lecture, called, "Boys 'N Guns: Masculinity in a Culture of Violence" will cover how using empathic listening not to change people, but to understand their point of view helps create a co-existent environment.
The USD Women, Gender and Sexuality Conference is Mar. 22 - Mar. 24. Three events, including Vash's address, are free and open to the public.