Boys to Men

The science of masculinity and manhood

Male Studies and Psychology

What Psychology Departments Must Add to Curricula

Three scholars presented an invited symposium on "The Influence of Academia on Men" at the 2014 annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association (EPA): http://www.easternpsychological.org/files/DOCUMENTLIBRARY/Abstrac... (pp. 29-30). Questions addressed included: What is the field of psychology doing to meet the needs of men and our understanding of them? What assumptions about boys and men are evident in contemporary academic book reviews on male psychology? What are academic institutions doing to prepare students and the public for a better understanding of men's issues?

The proceedings of the three symposiasts will appear in the May 30 issue of NEW MALE STUDIES: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL: http://newmalestudies.com/OJS/index.php/nms .

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The answer to the last question is "Nothing." Currently, academic institutions are doing nothing to prepare students, male and female, to better understand the experience of being male in contemporary society. This has an impact not only on the boys, but also the girls who attend colleges and universities throughout the country. All students now need to have an understanding of how boys and men—especially young men, but also fathers, middle-age and elderly men—experience their bodies, their selves.

Lack of attention to the topic is one reason for the recent decreasing enrollments of males at university. Our national average is now less than 40%. Statistical models predict that, at the present rate of decline, in fifty years there will be no boys on campus. I doubt that will happen, because awareness of the need for increased commitment to understanding the male experience—which only a psychological perspective can provide—is now being felt. The EPA panel is evidence of that awareness, although there are few such discussions taking place at regional and national conferences of this kind. That will soon change.

Fewer applications, more frequent interruptions or withdrawals, and the resulting fewer graduates at the bachelor’s level means fewer males are going on to graduate study and careers in the learned professions, including psychology, in both its research and applied clinical fields. As of yet, no studies have been undertaken of attitudes towards young men on campus, but they are needed. Three years ago, however, some preliminary material on the topic based on data from 10 colleges and universities was published in "Engaging College Men: Understanding What Works and Why."

In the States, on college campuses there are a few men’s centers for research and discussion of men’s issues. There is one in the UK. One proposed for a university in Canada is being strongly opposed. Perhaps more telling is the fact that where they exist they are not welcome. Much the same can be said about males themselves—other than athletes.

Changes in the general curriculum, but also in the co-curriculum and the extra-curriculum are a large part of the answer to the question, How can we make young men feel welcome once again on campus? Doing so in part depends upon increasing awareness on campus of most men’s experience.

One course, "Psychology of Boys and Men," is offered at Wagner College, in new York. It is the only course of its kind. It is a course about the experience of being male as a boy and as a man. Six books are required reading: Louann Brizendine, The Male Brain; David Gilmore, Manhood in the Making; Luigi Zoja, The Father; Eugene Monick, Phallos; Leonard Sax, Boys Adrift; and Roy Baumeister, Is there Anything Good about Men?. In addition, a two-part reading by Warren Farrell based on his book "The Myth of Male Power" is studied.

Students first discuss the male body and how it affects the presence of boys and men in nature and the social world. They then turn to theories of male psychological and psychosocial development, with a psychodynamic emphasis. Next, using anthropological research students examine the notion of manhood in a variety of cultures in order to see whether there are any universal features of what it means to be a man and whether there is anything like essential masculinity.

Students question the stereotype of innate male aggressiveness and examine the relation between men and power. They turn next to male sexuality, including homoeroticism, men’s relationships with their mothers and other women, their fathers and other men, fathering, male spirituality, and psychopathology in boys and men, including learning disabilities, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, antisocial personality disorder, depression and suicide.

The course concludes by considering some of the special issues surrounding boys’ experiences and looking at the broad social perspective on being male in contemporary Western culture.

80% of the students who take the course are women. Its topics are attracting more male students and may be one reason that male students on campus feel more welcome, knowing that their best interests are being taken seriously.

Miles Groth, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Wagner College.

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