The lives of most boys and men are now more unfulfilling than ever before in postmodern America. It is situation the beginnings of which arguably can be traced back to the post-World War II generation of men. That is an important history to be told. In general, misandry—typically dressed down in the media in the tatters of bad jokes—has by now produced two generations of males born since 1975 who feel less than welcome at home, in the workplace, and especially at school.
This state of affairs is slowly coming into focus in our public collective sensibility even while the slack water of a turning tide has made it seem that things are at a standstill for men and boys. They are not. 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 (now at about 39%, an all-time small proportion of male post-secondary students) continues to decrease. Significant spaces are opening up: men’s centers where small groups of young males can meet informally to talk about what is important to them, their doubts and concerns, their hopes and aspirations.
Men’s centers on college campuses are the place to work most effectively for boys and men. The students are at risk, but with our support they will lead us forward to a new generation of males, as exemplars and as fathers. They will be the next partners and friends, and will speak for men who have been silent for so long. Their influence on sons and young boys will help change the dismal literacy situation and emotional state in which so many of these young males currently find themselves.
This is a first report on such centers. Only four years ago the Men’s Center for Leadership and Service was formed at St. John’s University, in Minnesota, by Gar Kellom. Subsequently, with his steady guidance, a grant was secured from the Lily Endowment to sponsor two-year funded pilot projects at 14 colleges and universities. The results of these projects which focused on vocational discernment were published this summer in Engaging College Men: Discovering What Works and Why, edited by Kellom and Miles Groth, and published by the Men’s Studies Press. This fall, Wagner College, one of the pilot project schools, opened a men’s center on its campus on Staten Island, New York. It now serves as the model for such centers across the nation.
Within eight weeks of opening, the Wagner center gained the support of a benefactor. A designated gift has made possible the Theuer Men’s Center at Wagner College. Thirty other schools are now considering implementing the Wagner model. The formula for establishing such a center is follows:
A faculty member identifies himself as a mentor for the college men at his institution. There is at least one such person on every campus just waiting to step out of the shadows and sponsor a men’s center.
The faculty mentor gains the support of a visionary president.
A small core group of students known individually to the mentor are brought together. These boys invite other young men to sit in on the center’s discussion group, which usually meets weekly. One of them 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.
In the second phase of 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. There will always be alumni with a son of college age or younger who are concerned about the deteriorating situation for men on college campuses: lack of a vital and engaging academic and co-curricular life, often a feeling of being unwelcome on campus. A target amount for a two-year period is $4,000 per academic year for a core group of 10-12.
Featuring the initiative in the institution’s alumni/ae quarterly bulletin is effective in reaching out for further support. Coverage by the local newspaper brings attention to the college and to the situation college males now face. The biggest surprise is that most people are simply not aware of the situation as it is.
Let this be a call to readers to take part in helping establish a men’s center on the college campus where you once studied or have a son in residence. The tide is rolling in for boys and men, and that means we are finally beginning to learn, not more about what males have done, but about their experience. Contrary to the standard view, this is unknown territory.
If you have not been in contact with your alma mater for a while, call or write to the officers in alumni relations and tell them that you would like to support a men’s center on campus on the Wagner model. If you know a faculty member there who once made a difference in your life, contact him and invite him to be a mentor. Ask about the ratio of males to female now enrolled there.
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 engaged, but most of his friends are not. Ask him to identify a faculty member who is willing to work to establish a men’s center. He will know such a person. These teachers 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, knowing what it coming to pass and waiting for news of others’ interest in how boys and men are faring. 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 a college men’s center.
Miles Groth, PhD, Wagner College