Masculinity Initiatives at the University of Arizona

Bryant Valencia, M.A, University of Arizona

April 21, 2017

Efforts to address the educational pathways for young men from marginalized backgrounds has reached national concerns through initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper under the Obama administration.  At the University of Arizona (UA), Early Academic Outreach’s Masculinity Initiatives works to dissect messages about gender identity by engaging young men from marginalized backgrounds in conversation about masculinity and increasing various pathways to college. This initiative involves three programs which address the larger concerns of young men’s pursuit of a college education by advancing access to college.  College outreach is accomplished through various programs and events under the initiative by, connecting undergraduate students as peer mentors to high/middle school students, hosting a college conference where students challenge gender expectations and plan for college, implementing two instructed courses focused on the intersection of identities and access to higher education, and hosting a speaker series in collaboration with university partners.

The initiative, which has been in existence for five years since 2009, has worked to include relevant theory and assessment to continue its efforts in the UA and Tucson communities. Partnerships include campus programs and offices as well as local high schools and middle schools. Due to educational concerns for the educational pathways for young men, multiple stakeholders have supported this initiative by creating space for this work.

Additionally, the program has seen multiple years of assessment. It has been vital to recording the story of the program by assessing all programs and initiatives that have occurred. As assessment efforts continue to improve, data that is collected is used to tell a story of how the program addresses the intersection of gender and various social and cultural identities, and ultimately informs how multiple partnerships in the P-20 pipeline can make an impact.

Masculinity Initiatives

Man Up! and Go to College Conference

Hosted at the University of Arizona’s (UA) campus, about 300 local high school students challenge gender expectations and plan for their future careers by participating in multiple workshops, working with current college students, and a keynote spoken word artist. This annual conference engages about 10 local high schools and hopes to impact local youth by promoting positive messages about masculinity and challenging the dominant narrative of marginalized young men missing from colleges and universities. The most recent conference in October 2016, had about 275 high school students in attendance. Of those students about 80 percent were young men, and approximately 53 percent were first generation college students. Some notable findings from the conference examined college going processes and gender identity. 

“I learned that if you take off your mask and show who you really are inside, it wonts stop you from what you really want to do in life” – Male High School Attendee

The conference achieved its desired goal of increasing college readiness.  Before attending the conference, 43 percent of participants stated they understood the college admissions process at the UA, and after 80 percent agreed they understood the process. Moreover, 30 percent were aware of how their gender (i.e. masculinity) connect to their pathway to college before the conference, but after about 75 percent agreed with this statement. Overall, the conference has seen much success and hopes to integrate future approaches to measuring its effectiveness.

“[I learned] that there are a lot of resources you can use to get to college to be successful in life, like expressing yourself can help, asking for help, being open to others” – Male High School Attendee

Undergraduate Courses

Two courses work with undergraduate male and female students to introduce them to topics related to college access and masculinity for young men from marginalized backgrounds. In Fall 2016, 22 undergraduate students (15 males, and 7 females) participated in a service learning course entitled “Project SOAR: My Brother’s Keeper” (MBK) which focused on mentoring young men at local middle schools. Each student completed about 11.5 hours for the semester, or 254 hours total for the class. One student shared his experience,

“As someone who aspires to be an educator, Project SOAR has been a great first experience of working with and understanding students in a school setting. However, being in MBK specifically has been even more rewarding, because it has allowed me the opportunity not to just theorize in a college classroom about masculinity and how young men experience it, but actually have an influence on young men’s minds on the topic.” - Male Undergraduate Senior

This Spring 2017, HED 331 “Masculinity, Power, and Education” focuses on critically analyzing masculinity, intersectionality, and identity in the experiences of young men from various identity backgrounds, as well as their pathway and experiences in higher education. This course integrates an outreach project where undergraduate students work with youth (middle and high schools) in a collaborative project focused on addressing gender related concerns in their community. The methodology used in this course is participatory action research, a method that has long been used to address community challenges related to social justice. Additionally, students will use intersectionality as a framework for examining these issues related to gender and other identities (i.e. race, sexual orientation, ability, etc.). All students will present their work at a mini-conference in a collaboration with their middle/high school peers focusing on gender and masculinity.

Cultural Center Speaker Series

Six UA cultural centers have engaged over 260 students, staff, faculty, and community members through gender specific programs and performances working to increase awareness of gendered expectations for their respective communities. These events are a part of a series of events throughout the year that enable these centers to bring a speaker, artist, or performer to share messages about gender and identity. Over the past three years the initiative has enabled the cultural centers to bring over 12 speakers and performers to campus. This past year approximately 85 percent of 262 attendees agreed that addressing the topic of masculinity on campus is an important way to engage students at the UA. In that same group, about 84 percent of attendees related with the issue or topic discussed in the performances.  These events not only engage students, but are open to faculty, staff, and the community. 

Lastly, this initiative does much of this work with very limited funding from a student services fee grant. The funding is not institutionalized, but has stayed constant over the past three years. However, despite financial challenges the initiative continues to grow and look at new ways to address this pressing issue in the community. Recently, a graduate Master’s student at the UA proposed a program under this initiative to engage multicultural fraternities on campus with local high schools to promote male mentoring opportunities for young men in the community. This program will start this Spring. As this work continues to grow, multiple stakeholders both in the community and at the university are working together to make this initiative work for the young men who will be a large part of the future of this state, and country. 


About the author: Bryant Valencia, M.A. is a Doctoral student studying Higher Education at the University of Arizona. He is a Graduate Assistant in the Office of Early Academic Outreach and Coordinator of Masculinity Initiatives, which seek to increase the number of first-generation, low-income, and marginalized men who consider college as a future pathway. Contact him at [email protected] for any questions regarding Masculinity Initiatives at the UA. 

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