Monday, November 11, 2013

Role Modeling In College Males

Lebron James, Drew Brees, and Sidney Crosby; what do these males have in common? We could answer this with the simple statement that they are all incredible athletes; but are they more than superstars?  What if Batman and Superman were added to this question?
Athletes are becoming modern-day superheroes.  They redefine impossible with blazing speed and incredible strength.  These professionals link communities together allowing individuals of different races and socioeconomic statuses to share a common interest.  Sports are popular for males of all ages. They are a source of primetime entertainment.  Watching athletes nail a three-pointer or hit the game winning home run bring males excitement.  Talking about sports allows males to signify their manhood (Kimmel, 2008).  They allow males to show passion, love, and heartbreak. Most importantly, athletics give males a chance to exit the real world; similar to cinemas during the Great Depression. No matter how tough times are, sports can take individuals minds off of the obstacles they are facing and give them relief from reality.  Most importantly, professional athletes become role models for children.  Adolescent males strive to be just like their favorite athletes.  They will eat specific brands of cereal to because their favorite player is advertising it on television.  Children practice celebration dances so they can use them at their next game. Males are mimicking athletes hoping to one day be a superhero.
With an increasing need for role models in the world, athletes are becoming the answer to this problem; but should they be the answer?  As a male who was highly involved in new student orientation and club sports, I have noticed that there is an increasing popularity of male students labeling athletes as their primary role models.  It is a phenomenon that is intriguing to me. For young men, sports knowledge is essential; “If you are an informed citizen, you win the admiration and respect of your community” (Kimmel, 2008, p. 140).  Sports give students common ground and a code to live by (Kimmel, 2008).  The respect of a college male’s peers could be one of the reasons why athletes are studied and admired.  This trend could also be linked to the divorce rate and pre-marriage childbirth.  With these trends on the rise, athletes may be the most realistic role models in an adolescent male’s life.  Regardless of the cause, many college males seek empowerment from professional and college superstars.
Personally, I was guilty for 21 years labeling an athlete as a role model.  Through adolescence and the beginning years of emerging adulthood, my idol was Brett Favre.  My eyes were glued to the TV anytime he was on the football field.  I cheered him on for every touchdown and listened to every word he spoke during post-game press conferences as if he was speaking to me.   Favre’s impact on me went further than his dominance on the field; it was his ability to overcome adverse situations that stood out to me.  He would selflessly fight through the pain of a broken thumb or ankle and lead his team to victory.  The resilience Favre presented by throwing four touchdowns the day after his father died inspired me to become mentally stronger.   Favre was my role model, and I did not see any problems with that. However, it dawned on me the day Favre retired; who will inspire me now?   When I am in a rough patch, who will be the person to give me advice?  I could not call him, nor could I watch him in weekly press conferences.
This is one of the obstacles with males accepting professional athletes as primary role models; they are temporary.  Athletes can motivate you by their breathtaking performances or graceful press conferences, but will never be there to support students in everyday life.  “As student affairs professionals, we need to help these male students find role models that allow individuals to engage in intimate conversations” (T. Wells, personal communication, September 5, 2013).  College males need validation from upperclassmen, professional staff, or local successors in the institutional environment to give students quality direction and advice. Furthermore, it is why we need to find role models for males early into their higher educational experience.  Validation is most influential at the beginning of a student’s college experience (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, & Renn, 2010).  Focusing on the first-year experience will allow higher educational institutions to promote this movement.
            In reflection of my first year in college, I realize that the absence of a role model delayed my potential. I did not have anyone in the community that could give me advice on academics or allow me to share my emotions. For the first three years of college I did not have a role model. As a student who had a high grade point average and multiple national championships in powerlifting, it did not seem like a role model would have affected me. However, I had an Achilles heel; I had no clue what my occupation would be after college. Entering my first senior year, I changed my major eight times ranging from business to biology. At the time, I was planning to apply to physical therapy school, but I was still not confident in choosing that path.
            I survived three and a half years of college with Brett Favre as my primary role model but I did not develop emotionally nor did I have a clear future.  With graduation three semesters away, I applied to become an orientation leader for a final leadership opportunity. With that said, I realize I was fortunate because they only choose 35 students a year to be orientation leaders. It was here that I met the university’s orientation director, Paul.  He was different than any higher education professional I had ever met.  Paul noticed that I built a wall to hide my emotions.  Throughout the year, he challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone by participating in activities that would make me feel vulnerable.  Paul supported me through my academic struggles and comforted me after my own father’s death. In my fourth year of college, I finally received a role model. With Paul as my mentor, I grew more in three semesters than the first 7 combined.  Furthermore, I was confident in choosing student affairs as a career path.  
            This is why it is important to reach out to males in their first-year as a college student. Upperclassmen and student affairs professionals can penetrate emotional walls to allow first-year males to be comfortable with their personal identities.  We can build a foundation to help males adequately prepare for careers outside of college.  Also, forming close bonds with these students and professionals allow young males to have role models who are available to support and motivate them through their endeavors.  Most importantly, creating unique bonds with mentors will educate these young males on the importance of role modeling, thus motivating these young students to become role models when they become more experienced in college.  This will result in more available role models in a college institution.  Star athletes may be appropriate role models for young children but in emerging adulthood, upperclassmen and student affairs professionals can become superheroes for these young males.       

Evans, N., Forney, D., Guido, F., Patton, L., & Renn, K. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kimmel, M. (2008). Guyland: The perilous world where boys become men. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Cameron Barrilleaux is a first-year student in the Student Development in Higher Education graduate program at the University of Maine where he is the GA for Leadership Development in the Campus Activities and Student Engagement Office.  He graduated from the University of Louisiana, Lafayette in May 2013.  You can engage Cameron on Twitter @CaminMe.


Elizabeth Thorson said...

Do you think female staff and faculty play a role in male emotional development, particularly for college students? Granted this operates out of a gender binary, but I am doing research regarding this for a history paper. I think it might need further research.

Anonymous said...

I would look at Jason Laker's chapter in Masculinities in Higher Education: Theoretical and Practical Considerations (Laker & Davis, 2012) entitled, Inviting and Inspiring Men to Learn: Gendered Pedagogical Considerations for Undergraduate Teaching and Learning. Actually I would suggest the entire book since it has a lot of great chapters on reaching men.

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