DECEMBER 1, 2010
THE TIDE HAS TURNED: MEN ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES
By Professor Miles Groth, Ph.D.
Wagner College, Staten Island, New York
This article, the first of several in a series, is an interesting insight into the promising new phenomenon of men’s centers, which are being formed on college and university campuses in America. Just as noteworthy, is how these men’s centers are a practical expression of the emerging new field and discipline of Male Studies; one that is attracting much interest and support from scholars of a variety of academic disciplines internationally. Ideas in this article have much potential for adaptation and use on college and university campuses in Australia and other parts of the world.
For a long time—forty years now—men’s studies (largely a complement to women’s studies) has been on the scene. Its relative obscurity and lack of impact is mostly attributable to its not being about most boys and men. The new field and discipline of Male Studies is changing all that, and is now finding practical expression on college and university campuses in America.
The lives of males born since 1975 are more unfulfilling than ever before in postmodern America. This fact is slowly coming into focus in our public collective sensibility even while the inevitable slack water of a turning tide has made it seem that things are at a standstill; far from it.
A movement is underway that is proactive. It is taking hold in colleges and universities, even as the enrollment of young men in college nationwide in the United States continues to decrease (currently, it is at an all-time low of 39 percent of the total undergraduate population, and similar trends are evident in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom). The good news is that significant spaces are opening up for young males on campus. These are men’s centers, where small groups of young male students can meet informally to talk about what is important to them: how they are perceived in the broader culture, their doubts and concerns, and most of all their hopes and aspirations. An opening up of male experience has begun. While it is true that we have heard a great deal about men’s behavior throughout history (a story recorded mostly by males), we know precious little about their experience. Even the most candid self-explorers—poets and other artists, psychologists such as Freud and Jung—were careful to cover their tracks. Self-revelation has been a male taboo from the start. That is part of the well-known story of stereotypic masculinity, which has only harmed men.
About a decade ago, and after more than 25 years of college teaching and working as a psychotherapist, I saw that young men on college campuses were fading emotionally and intellectually, even disappearing. I eventually realized that it is at just such places that the most effective activity of and on behalf of boys and men should begin. A first step was adding to the small number of courses on the male experience; which moved to the forming of a men’s center at Wagner College this year. Following on the pioneering work of Gar Kellom at St. John’s University in Minnesota, the Lynne and Harold Theuer Men’s Center at Wagner College is now the flagship organization for beginning centers across the country.
Male students are not victims. Men’s centers are not in reaction to other initiatives. Proactive, they are responding to a population at risk, for the most part because of a recent history of declining engagement and an increasing sense of not being welcome in academe. The undergraduates who are drawn to the Wagner Men’s Center - and soon to other centers based on its model, are inventing a new generation of males who will be exemplars as fathers as the 60-year silence of males ends (a hush that has to be explained). They will also be the next partners and friends of women and other men. Their influence on sons and other young boys—boys are all men’s sons, as I like to say—will slowly change the now well-documented dismal literacy situation and emotional state in which so many boys and young males currently find themselves.
This is a first report on college men’s centers. Thirty other schools have been approached to consider implementing a center on the Wagner model, which can easily be adapted for colleges and universities in Australia and other countries.
A faculty member identifies himself as a mentor for the men at his institution. There is at least one such person on every campus just waiting to step out of the shadows and serve in this role. He is known individually to a small group of college students as their instructor or academic advisor. I like to think of him as the axel of a wheel to which a few spokes become attached, just enough to make the wheel roll. Each spoke becomes a spokesman for the forming group. Now known to each other, they invite their friends and the core group grows.
The faculty mentor gains the support of a visionary president. This is an important person, since he or she serves as a link to the institution’s administration and board of trustees. The president will be rewarded by increasing enrollments and attention to the institution in the media. His male students will begin to become engaged once again in the life of the institution.
A men’s group meets weekly for discussion. When funding becomes available, so does food! One of the young men takes on the role of managing the schedule of meetings. The faculty mentor meets individually with members of the cohort, but the group itself provides its own essential leadership. That is crucial. The mentor serves as an advisor and official link to the business office when a funding source becomes available.
In establishing a men’s center, the mentor works with the school’s development and alumni relations offices to identify alumni/ae who would likely be in a position to fund the center for a two-year start-up period. The center is named after the benefactor, if that is agreeable to him. There will always be alumni with a son of college age or younger who are concerned about the situation for men on college campuses. A target amount for a two-year period is $4,000 per academic year for a core group of 10 to 12 members.
Featuring the initiative in the institution’s alumni/ae quarterly bulletin is effective in reaching out for further support. Coverage by local newspapers helps. Notifying local public political figures about the center’s existence is important. The biggest surprise will be that most people are simply not aware of the situation for young males as it is. Educating the public is a service to the community—campus-wide, local, regional and even national.
The tide is beginning to roll in for boys and men. If you know a faculty member at a college who once made a difference in your life, contact him and invite him to be a mentor at your alma mater. Ask about the ratio of males to females now enrolled there. Encourage him to found a men’s center.
If you have a son or grandson at college, ask him about his life there. He will have stories to tell about feelings of disengagement, even alienation from campus life. He may be among the few males on campus who are still participating in campus life—most likely in sports or music—but you will hear that most of his male friends are not involved. Ask him to identify a faculty member who is willing to work to establish a men’s center. He will know such a person. There are teachers who stand out as being male-positive in their classes and on campus.
If you are on the faculty or staff at a college or university, bring this idea to your colleagues’ attention. Many have been wading in the slack water, sensing what is coming to pass and waiting for news of others’ interest in how boys and men are faring, but hesitant to move what may have seemed to be against the current. In every case, it will be a challenging and rewarding experience. A lot is at stake here.
Next in this series, a description of the activities of the Men’s Center at Wagner College, in New York.