St. Mary’s College of Maryland has been making many broad changes in the way the college community talks about gender, identity and sexual health. From the redesign to the peer support network now called S.M.A.R.T, to annual events like Take Back the Night in the spring, students are finding ways to discuss politics in safe, constructive ways. There is now discussion in Residence Life of creating an initiative to support healthy masculinity on campus. Area Coordinator Daniel Schell and Assistant Director of Residence Life Matthew Jordan confirmed efforts to implement new preventionary programming aimed at bringing male students into the conversation anout rape, sexual assault and gender awareness. ‘Last year, Derek Young, Kelvin Clark, Matt [Jordan] and I began discussing issues that affect our male students in particular.
Healthy masculinity programming is meant to counter the harmful mentality that men must be behave a certain way or treat women in particular ways to reaffirm their identity as men. The organization ‘Men Can Stop Rape’, in their information about their own healthy masculinity action project, describe the project as such as ‘a national grassroots movement to eradicate the harmful expectations and stereotypes our society teaches boys about what it means to be a man.’
With the discussion of ending sexual assault more pervasive than ever, Schell and Jordan say that while no specific incident has prompted the development of this initiative, the time certainly seems right. ‘There’s a lot of discussion right now about sexual misconduct,’ says Jordan. ‘of course we have our new policy, there’s a lot of talk about Title IX, and a lot of the programs we have right now are very reactionary, very focused on women. But research tells us that the vast majority of perpetrators in these situations are men, and we don’t really have a lot of proactive programming, not just here but across the country. Just talking to men, first of all about what sexual misconduct is, and about what rape is, making sure that there’s a full understanding of what consent entails, and prompting male students to start looking at this issue as well.’
Students and staff may sometimes perceive problems with the way in which masculinity is presented culturally to us, both on campus and in society at-large. Junior Orion Hartmann pointed specifically to gendered insults and compliments as an example of a problem he perceives in the way we societally view masculinity, ‘such as “that shirt is too gay / don’t scream like a girl” and “they’ve got massive balls”,’ says Hartmann. ‘…people can recognize that they enforce hurtful stereotypes that judge women as inferior. Being a girl shouldn’t be an insult nor should homosexuality, and people don’t need balls to have guts and show courage. No one needs to grow balls.’
Schell and Jordan hopes that programming that focuses on male students help make them feel like a part of the solution. ‘It’s not pointing fingers at men and saying they’re the problem.’ says Schell. It’s more a way of looking at men and saying “You have an opportunity here to intervene and to help reduce these issues on campus.”’
A healthy masculinity initiative at St. Mary’s would also focus on encouraging male bystander intervention amongst men, ‘Looking out for men, looking out for women, and making sure folks aren’t getting into those kinds of situations.’
Schell and Jordan also wish to counter harmful ideas of what being a man is about.
‘Some of the contemporary research about masculinity talks about masculinity in terms of a mask..something put on so that other folks see them as a man.’ says Jordan. ‘Or some research talks talks about it in terms of a box that men put themselves in, based on common stereotypes of masculinity. Things that men learn at a very young age, that they feel they need to exhibit in order to be seen as a man.’
‘A lot of what we are thinking about,’ Jordan continues, ‘are ways to talk about those stereotypes. Men not being able to explore emotion, other than anger, abusing drugs and alcohol, not only to try and look more manly but to deal with some of those emotions they’re not confronting.’
It’s understandable that men also harming themselves by trying to live up to stereotypes of masculinity would be a concern. Schill and Jordan say that based on statistics given to them by Kelly Smolinsky representing conduct violations last and over the past three years. male students accounted for over 70% of all infractions, despite making up only 41% of the student body. ‘Things are not horrible here on campus.’ says Jordan, but we can make the whole climate better.’
Schill and Jordan already have a pretty good idea of what might be in store for the future in terms of the initiative. ‘I’ve developed sort of a training program.’ says Schill. ‘We’ve already implmented it with our RAs. I think from here we’re looking to expand into other student programs. Groups like the Peer Health Educators, S.M.A.R.T., I imagine the OLs when they get here next summer. Then we’re hopefully going to do a “St. Mary’s Speaks”, though it hasn’t been confirmed yet, to have sort of an open discussion about these issues.’
‘We’re still formulating want these discussions to look like.’ continues Jordan. ‘Likely it’s going to be a group of male students working with different staff members…I think what we’re hoping for is something less formal where there’s subject matter from something within the vast realm of masculinity.’
Schill and Jordan are both confident that male students will be both responsive and interested in the opportunity to participate.’I think the way we want to approach it is to have students from every part of campus involved, from athletics to residence life to OLs to students who are just looking to get more involved.’ says Schill. ‘That’s our hope for this.’
Students interested in learning more or getting involved with healthy masculinity programming can contact Daniel Schill (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Matthew Jordan (email@example.com) in Res Life (240.895.4207).