Tuesday, July 20, 2010
THE MALE CRISIS
There's a shortage of men on campus, and a
Wagner College professor wants to know why
By MAUREEN DONNELLY
More than a decade ago, Dr. Miles Groth perceived a troubling trend infiltrating Wagner College.
“I’ve been teaching since 1976, and I noticed in my classes there were fewer and fewer guys. I wondered if it was because of the courses I’m teaching,” said the Wagner psychology professor, “but then my colleagues were saying the same.”
Wagner is not alone in this: It’s a phenomenon being seen at colleges across the country. According to a recent report released by the American Council on Education, the men-to-women ratio of college students nationwide is 43 to 57. At Wagner, Dr. Groth reports, it’s 36 to 64.
“The projection is that unless something changes over the next 15 years, there will be a continuing decline [of male college students nationwide],” he said.
“The big issue is that guys are not able to meet the criteria to get into college,” he continued, noting males also drop out at a disproportional rate.
Deeply concerned about the gender imbalance at Wagner, Dr. Groth applied for — and received — a grant offered to 15 schools to launch men’s groups at their colleges in 2008.
That summer, he recruited Andrew Hager, a Gorham, Maine, resident at Wagner on a football scholarship, to enlist and lead a small group of peers to explore what it’s like being a male in today’s society.
The group started with a “core of four,” and last semester grew to include about a dozen members who consistently attended the weekly meetings.
“They are there because they want to be, not because they have to be,” Dr. Groth said, explaining members don’t receive college credits or additional perks.
Dr. Groth, who doesn’t sit in on meetings but follows up with each member privately, provides a list of topics and readings as conversation-starters. It’s up to the leader — Hager, until he graduated in May — to steer the discussion.
“To begin, we started with an autobiography — who we are, what we’ve been doing,” Hager said of how he led the first few sessions two years ago. “Then we dove into bigger questions: what we feel, what’s our calling in life, what’s our role as men.”
Other issues they delved into: boyhood experiences, being a male at Wagner, relationships with women and relationships with men, especially their fathers.
“Getting guys to talk about these things among themselves is a major achievement,” Dr. Groth said.
Kyle Glover, an incoming senior who will be taking Hager’s place in the fall, agrees, mentioning that many of his classmates consider it “gay” for men to gather for intimate conversations.
Hager, who grew more comfortable sharing his emotions through his participation in the group, believes, from a mental health standpoint, men need to break this communication barrier between them, noting many of his male classmates “clam up and get defensive” rather than discuss what’s bothering them.
Finding this kind of peer support, however, can be difficult for males at Wagner, Hager said, observing, “Because of the high female population, there isn’t much male cohesiveness.”
For him, the group filled this void.
“It added this sense of fraternity to the truest form,” Hager said. “A brotherhood formed.”
It also gave him a place to speak up. As one of the few males in his courses, the philosophy major became overly conscious of what he said in front of his female classmates.
“I was afraid I’d be taken the wrong way,” he explained. The men’s group allowed him to express his views without fear of being misconstrued, much like the group itself is by those who believe it’s filled with a bunch of misogynists.
Not true, says Glover. “The men’s group isn’t a group where we rag on women. It’s not an ‘us vs. them’ kind of thing. It’s about men trying to understand themselves,” the Ridgefield, Conn., resident said.
When he joined the group last year, Glover was enrolled in a feminist philosophy course and says he got so “caught up” in women’s struggles he “never even considered that men could be struggling as well.”
They are. And it’s not just a case of fewer men earning college degrees. Jobless and suicide rates are higher for males than their female counterparts, as are depression rates, though the latter are not so obvious since males tend to mask depression.
“Girls will tell somebody about it,” Dr. Groth said. “Boys won’t, and they can carry around this burden of depression for years,” he concluded.
Complicating the matter is a shrinking presence of male mentors in boys’ lives, the professor said, pointing out most single-parent households are run by mothers, and many boys don’t have their first male teacher until middle school.
“There is something very vulnerable about this group,” Dr. Groth said, adding it’s a problem women should be concerned about, too.
Female students at Wagner know all too well how hard it is getting a date on campus. And once these ladies graduate, there will be a smaller pool of academic equals to date, marry and be fathers who pass on similar values to future children.
For the most part, Dr. Groth believes the men’s group is well-received by the females on campus. If it isn’t, it should be — as it could help improve their romantic relationships.
Dr. Groth said one of the biggest gripes he hears from college women about their boyfriends is: “He doesn’t tell me much about what’s going on with him.”
He said, “I just nod my head.”
MEN’S MAJOR MAY BE COMING TO SCHOOL NEAR YOU
If a psychology professor has it his way,
the first one of its kind will commence at Wagner College
By ELISE McINTOSH
A troubling trend is being seen among American males under age 35: In the last decade or so, there has been a sharp decline of men going to college. Suicide rates among boys is four times higher than girls. And many sons of divorced parents are growing up without a male figure in the home.
A growing number of academics troubled by this picture hope to bring attention to the issue at the university level. Dr. Miles Groth, a psychology professor at Wagner College, is one who's leading the way.
Two years ago, he established a men's group at the Grymes Hill school for young men to come together and talk about the issues plaguing today's male.
This fall, he's helping to establish a men's center at Wagner. According to Dr. Groth, it will be the only one of its kind operating. (There was one at St. John's University in Minnesota, which closed recently.) In addition to providing support to males on campus, the center also will help set up men's centers at other colleges.
MALES STUDIES MAJOR
Dr. Groth is on the board of trustees of the Foundation for Male Studies (malestudies.org), a nonprofit organization that, as one its goals, is working to form the first male studies major in the country.
"There is something called the men studies program and that's been around for 30 years. But they've been more interested in advocacy for somewhat older men and haven't focused in on this younger age group," Dr. Groth said, adding, a new curriculum will focus on both boys and grown men.
"We're interested in what I'm calling the deep experience of being a boy, being a male," he said. "This hasn't been explored."
In response to criticism that much of the current curriculum at colleges already is focused on men, Dr. Groth said that what is taught today only represents a "tiny, tiny number of powerful men.
"They're not about most men," he continued. "They're about a small group of men who have been powerful throughout history and into our own time."
He said the curriculum the Foundation hopes to create will center on the average male, not the elite, powerful ones.
Dr. Groth said at this time a couple of schools are being approached to establish the first male studies major. The Foundation is seeking a $2.5 million grant from a well- known company, which he is not at liberty to name, to help pave the way, monetarily.
Interest in a male studies program has been gaining global attention for about a decade.
In April, Wagner College hosted a conference, "Male Studies: A New Academic Discipline," that was video recorded and streamed live online. Scholars from across the world — Brazil, Australia, the United Kingdom and Russia — participated in the program that examined the declining state of men and what a male studies program should look like.
Dr. Groth said he wants the major to be interdisciplinary and is hoping for full participation from professors in the anthropology, biology, economics, law, medicine, psychology and other departments.
"We have the highest hopes within the next two years the first major in male studies will be in place somewhere," he said, adding he'd be "delighted" if Wagner was chosen to be the first.
Dr. Groth, who is available to speak to groups on the topic, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.