Monday, July 8, 2013

Conference on College Men Reflections

Before attending this year’s Conference on College Men at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, I attended the two previous CCMs at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and the University of Pennsylvania.  This cross-disciplinary conference focusing on the topic of college men was created by a collaboration between NASPA and ACPA members interested in creating a space to dialogue about challenges facing college men. With each new conference iteration every two years, an unofficial conference theme emerges. This year’s thematic subtext highlighted the psychological toll entailed with one’s conformity to traditional male gender roles. Though many of the conference presentations focused on disparate college male populations and their respective experiences, a common topic surfaced regarding the theoretical and pragmatic implications of addressing young men’s emotional livelihood, as well as the internal emotional world of those practioners who develop and implement programs designed specifically around gender and masculinities.
As individuals who work in higher education and who are devoted to the success of college men, we too, have been affected by hegemonic masculinity (for better or worse). Throughout formal conference sessions and informal settings at meals, conversations amongst conference attendees entailed discussions of how to create and sustain a healthier model of masculinity for the young men with whom we work. It is my contention that in order to realize this new vision on our campuses, we have to appreciate and address the ways in which our own male socialization impacts personal and professional relationships. While attending CCM, I witnessed and was apart of such discussions, which I hope to depict here with my conference reflections. 
Starting with Carlos Gomez’s opening keynote address / performance, he cited his own developmental path of defining and refining his sense of self as a gendered being. By also acknowledging the intersections of his racial / ethnic and class social group identity memberships, he created a lens with which he described the broadening of his emotional landscape. Specifically, he spoke about complimenting anger, as the only “acceptable” expression of negative affect, with identification of sadness and fear. Later in the conference, the other featured speaker, Dr. Robert Heasley, gave a unique talk masculine gender performance and sexuality. He spoke on the need for further fluidity of masculine self-expression beyond “the binary” and rigid notions of gender presentation. In addition, he suggested that hetero-normative and heterosexist ideology regarding men’s relationships has hampered their abilities to create open and expressive male connections.
The real strength of the conference was the concurrent sessions that incorporated varied views on college men seen today on our campuses. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to bring in the aforementioned theme of suboptimal psychological functioning with an analysis of current unconscious and conscious racial and sexist oppression. During my talk I hoped to illustrate the manifestation of race and gender as requisites for White male entitlement, privilege, and the related psychological costs of privilege within racism and sexism. After presenting my conceptualization of this phenomenon, I facilitated an active discussion on its impact related to student affairs practioners working with White college men. I left the discussion humbled by hearing from so many audience members and their tireless work with this unique demographic. I was equally excited about the numerous direct interventions yet to be created and implemented on behalf of White college men.
I attended engaging presentations on intersectionality of identity existing for college men (including veteran, Latino, gay, Black, and other identities). I also attended an innovative program about outreach, another on the creative utilization of Motivational Interviewing (MI), and finally one a comprehensive plan for developing a retreat for college men. 
As if the formal keynotes and sessions did not provide enough “food for thought” on the lived experience of today’s college man, getting the chance to build relationships with other male conference attendees during informal down time greatly supplemented my experience. Getting to sit with a racially diverse group of men and hear about how they experienced their individual male development was a conference highlight. Together, we reflected on our sexual development and identity (both gay and straight). We spoke about our expanded emotional expression, especially to important male figures. In particular, we shared our understanding and meaning surrounding our first articulation of, “I love you,” to our fathers. We collectively opened up to each other (essentially as strangers) in the spirit of the conference’s re-visioning of healthy masculinities and it’s positive effects on the college men with whom we work.  
Dr. Benjamin Neale is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Illinois Chicago Counseling Center. In his position, he performs psychotherapy with UIC undergraduate and graduate students. He can be reached via email at

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