Monday, October 14, 2013

Engaging College Men in Difficult Dialogues Is as Easy as PIE?

Okay, so the title of this post is a bit misleading. Of course, engaging college men in difficult dialogues is not, as the saying goes, “easy as pie.” No, most dialogues that higher education professionals should be having with college men are a bit uncomfortable. For example, discussing issues of male power and privilege such as rape and sexual assault is uncomfortable. Clearly, such discussions are important as issues of sexual assault and rape are continually making national news, particularly on college campuses. For example, if you have been following the news recently, an undergraduate member of the Alpha Rho chapter of Phi Kappa Tau at Georgia Tech University has come under scrutiny over e-mailing his fraternity brothers with explicit instructions on how to lure women into having sex with members of that particular Phi Kappa Tau chapter through alcohol.

Throughout the nation within institutions of higher education, cases such as the one at Georgia Tech University seem very familiar. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, college campuses face worse scenarios than e-mails suggesting non-consensual sex. In fact, according to Robin Warshaw’s I Never Called it Rape, 84% of men who committed rape said it was definitely not rape, and one-third of college men stated that they were likely to have sex with an unwilling partner if they knew that they could get away with it.

Of course, sexual assault and rape are not the only means through which college men express their male power and privilege in a negative manner. Other issues consist of college males pressuring other college males to drink alcohol or college males assaulting other college males. The list continues, but the aforementioned issues fit into the realm of difficult dialogues (Loschiavo, Miller, and Davies, 2007).

The purpose of having these difficult dialogues between higher education professionals and college males is to develop or enhance the awareness of college males in regard to male power and privilege (Loschiavo et al., 2007). Ultimately, as higher education professionals, this is part of our responsibility in maintaining a harmonious campus culture in addition to educating students. Education and challenging the societal dynamics at play are essential as, male power and male privilege are parts of social inequality that motivate the oppression and violence that happens on college campuses (Loschiavo et al., 2007).

Yes, programming and services exist on campuses to address many of the conduct code violations and issues such as violence and substance abuse. There are also services and programming initiatives that address issues such as problem-solving skills, emotional regulation skills, male socialization, and behavioral issues, which to some degree address male power and privilege. However, such services and programming exist mainly for those college men who have violated the code of conduct.

So what about those college men who have not violated the code of conduct or who have managed to avoid being caught violating the code of conduct? Engaging men in difficult dialogue about male power and privilege will be beneficial for all college males on any campus. However, unlike the title of this post suggests, engaging college men in these conversations can be difficult. While engaging college men is not “easy as pie,” using Sherry K. Watt’s PIE Model is one method of engaging college men in difficult dialogues.

The Privileged Identity Exploration (PIE) Model is designed to “assist practitioners who are using strategies that are focused on raising individual’s critical consciousness by encouraging them to dialogue about their privileged identities. Practitioners can use the model as a tool to help them anticipate defensive behaviors and devise a strategy to prevent productive dialogue from being derailed,” (Watt, 2007, p. 118).

For me, when attempting to engage college men in difficult dialogue, defensive behaviors become the biggest obstacle, and I can only imagine that I am not the only professional who encounters the same obstacle. For me, the PIE Model is a great option to help me address serious issues such as male power and privilege.

The PIE Model consists of three segments: recognizing privileged identity through denial, deflection, and rationalization; contemplating privileged identity through intellectualization, principium (avoiding exploration based on a religious or personal principle), and false envy; and lastly, addressing privileged identity through benevolence and minimization (Watt, 2007, p. 120-122). I've included a link to the article for those interested in exploring it further.

Male power and privilege are usually not directly addressed with college males. Instead, behavioral and emotional issues, which are negative outcomes or by-products of male power and privilege, are addressed. However, it is through meaningful dialogue that higher education professionals will be able to bring awareness to college males. In order to do so, higher education professionals must be prepared and equipped with theoretical frameworks and techniques of how to best engage college men about difficult issues. The PIE Model is one of many methods through which we, as professionals, can address male power and privilege.

While the PIE Model may not make difficult dialogue any easier, it will certainly give professionals a strategy and plan in having such dialogue with college men.

John Roberts is the Coordinator for Communications & Student Recruitment at Western Kentucky University, Glasglow.  You can engage John on Twitter @JohnRoberts348.

Works Cited:
Loschiavo, C., Miller, D. S., and Davies, J. (2007). Engaging men in difficult dialogues about privilege. The College Student Affairs Journal, 26(2), 193-200

Watt, S.K. (2007). Difficult dialogues, privilege, and social justice: Uses of the privilege identity exploration (PIE) model in student affairs practice. The College Student Affairs Journal, 26(2), 114-126

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