Somewhere beneath the radar screen, college-age American men as a group aren’t doing so well, especially when compared to today’s college women and men of the halcyon era of U.S. higher education long past, according to Rocco L. Capraro, who wrote an essay published in What Works: A Book About Raising Boys, Engaging Guys, and Educating Men.
As compared to college women and previous generations of college men, the sad facts:
- they read less;
- graduating from high school, they are not prepared for college;
- many are simply not attending college; and,
- those who matriculate aren’t graduating in large numbers.
These sad facts translate into the reality that if college admissions were gender-blind, then the majority of students at the nation’s most selective colleges would be women.
Of those men who do attend college today:
- they are less engaged in studies and student life;
- they receive lower grades and fewer academic honors (men in STEM courses–i.e., science, technology, engineering, and math–being the exception);
- they exhibit higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse and commit more social conduct violations; and,
- they use fewer student services and are more reluctant to seek help and attend support programs.
In sum, men are getting less out of their college experience, and they are not taking it upon themselves to do something about it.
So, what’s to be done? Capraro’s answer: “Men’s studies” that will enable college men:
- To get at the underlying causes of the lack of success of college men, what’s needed is to take a cue from feminist, critical race, and other explanatory systems to understand differentials in power to explain to college men the experience of college men, why they are struggling, and what they can do about it.
- To understand men’s experience, identity, and development throughout the life course—understanding men as men, not as generic human beings—will assist college men to know who they are (the social reality), what they think (stereotypes) and what they would like to be (the gender ideal). In short, to study “masculinities” so as to be able to discuss male students as males.
Capraro is optimistic, writing:
At bottom, what men’s studies teaches us, and where it can play a role in improving the lives of college men, is the fundamental insight that the totality of men’s experience cannot be explained by men’s power alone. True, objectively speaking, men as a group may still have power over women as a group; however, subjectively, individual men do not necessarily feel powerful, or behave as if they were in control. That is because many men engage in harmful, self-destructive behaviors linked to messages about manhood, or feel they do not measure up to the gender ideal, or are burdened by harmful stereotypes of what it means to be a man.
They are also socialized not to express their feelings, report symptoms, reveal their vulnerability, or otherwise deal in healthy ways with their emotions. And when it comes to learning, they learn at an early age that “school is for girls.” Masculinity leaves men feeling shamed and disempowered, suffering the negative consequences of their own notions of manhood and their own aversion to female identified values and attributes.
Worse yet, after steering men in the wrong direction, masculinity—insidiously and tragically—interferes with help-seeking behavior. No wonder so many men struggle in college. On campus, college women more likely to be sober and involved and men are drinking more—and more often—and are more distracted. College women in distress are more likely to seek out counseling centers or are referred by a friend, while college men become silent or act out. Informed by men’s studies, we can better design programs and services for college men, with men in mind.
If Capraro is to be believed, teachers and administrators in the nation’s K-12 schools are causing boys to become confused about what it means to be men so that, by the time high school graduation rolls around, they have absolutely no sense about their identity as males. Today, college men are “victims” who need to attend college to learn what who they are not only as men but also be educated in the various forms of “masculinities.” All of this will empower college men to be men, in the same way that college age women have been empowered through K-12 schools to seize upon their college experience to be equal and, it seems, surpass all of those poor, confused college men.
“Male studies.” The panacea for confused college men?
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