March 6, 2017
I can’t believe it, it’s over. In December I finished my third, and final year, teaching a first year seminar course about Men and Masculinities in America. This has been a unique venture for me as just five years prior, understanding and working with students regarding Masculinity in America was not even a synapse connection that existed. A conversation five years ago with colleague led me to check out an on-campus organization, called Men @ Nebraska at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, a new organization that I thought especially strange, an idea where the name spelled out the acronym, M@N (MAN). Masculinity was something that I had never thought about before or, better communicated, never had to think about before. Talk about privilege, as a cis-gender, white, Christian, heterosexual male, I breathed privilege and I didn’t even know it. I was wary of joining my colleague as I had seen “men’s groups” on television and in the media as men getting back to their primal selves and regaining the manliness or masculinity that has been taken away from them. I, not wanting to partake in this, voiced my concerns to my colleague, but they were immediately moved aside. My colleague clarified that the group focused on more of a feminist viewpoint and aimed to promote healthy masculinity. Intrigued, I agreed to go. In the first few meetings, I grew to entertain and understand concepts that were foreign to me: privilege, patriarchy, hegemonic vs. healthy (and then eventually positive) masculinity, gender construction, identity, power in all its forms (commodity vs. networks), and started to interrogate this further. This group, run by a doctoral student in the counseling department and sponsored by the Women’s Center, ended up altering my thinking and how I began to see the world. I was 29 at the time, and the feeling that attached to my thinking was, “Why didn’t I learn about this sooner?” At the time, my simple answer was that there wasn’t room in the curriculum, now, of course that answer is laden with cognitive connections, with power and the maintenance of that power, and anti-disruption of the patriarchal power networks, but that’s another blog for another day. My semi-activist mind was curious about a creation of a class on the subject and in consultation with the Women’s Center Director, I found out she had already created a class, but it was for graduate students. I, at the time was not one, but thought why does it have to be graduate students, how powerful and illuminating could this topic be if it was part of the curriculum as an undergraduate student, heck, what if this was the first class that you take as a freshman, first-year student? I held this idea as a dream and transitioned from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln to Appalachian State University as the person the works with residential learning communities. In a meeting, women who all had higher positions than I, were discussing the direction of a well-known residential learning community on campus: the Ultimate Man. In this meeting, the validity of this RLC was discussed and how they would prefer that this community went away. In seeing an opportunity, I asked if there were a class associate with it, could they see it continuing at least for one more year. They agreed but were unaware of what the class would look like. Immediately, I reached out the Director of the Women’s Center at UNL and she graciously sent me her syllabus for her grad course in order for me to begin the process of converting it to a First-Year Seminar, a requirement for all first year students to take. I spent a month on the course objectives and a syllabus focusing on the feminist perspective of gender and masculinities associated with this construct. Two months later it was approved for the following year. Holy crap, I was going to teach a course that I only had first known one year prior. I solicited the help of a colleague who was part of the Men and Masculinities Knowledge Community (MMKC) through NASPA and we hit the ground running in planning out the first year. Suddenly it was the next year and now finally its last year. In this process, I have learned a few lessons along the way and wanted to pass this on. Remember these are my lessons, while I think they are great (biased), I encourage you to think of your own.
Even though I subscribe to a specific gender, as a teacher you have to understand the concept of gender as a whole.
The hard part about writing this is that teaching this subject takes a toll. Each year it is difficult for me, one not wanting to be a teacher of gender but feels the need to continue this work, to start at square one again, is difficult. Also, being a doctoral student now and not having the ability to teach during the day due to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime rule (FLSA), I will not get to continue this work. What troubles me is that I think that this work needs to continue and update and change to the needs of men and women taking the course in the future. In asking others if they would like to take the reins and take over the course, I get the normal, “no thank you’s” and the “I don’t have time’s” but if not us then who, if not now, then when. Take the time consider a class on your campus, or even starting your own group so that these conversations continue. Take that one nugget you’ve learned and run with it, you never know where it will take you.
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