Jan 2015 Bulletin cover
Volume 83 | Issue 1
January 2015

Men's Development Programming

Ian Crone and Michael Henthorne

men's development programming core competenciesMany higher education professionals are struggling to determine how best to help college-aged men develop healthy masculinities. It seems that while everyone everywhere is talking and writing about men, not enough is being done to take action on the many concerns being expressed. Data can help us uncover the effects of hegemonic masculinity, but more work needs to be done in figuring out effective intervention strategies for the development of healthy masculinity. College union and student activities professionals in particular can learn from the growing body of research regarding the challenges that men face and improve their practice to better support college-aged men.

Scope of the Challenge

A great deal of evidence reflects the growing challenges for young men in higher education. The 2013 book The Rise of Women detailed how the representation of male undergraduates compared with women has declined steeply in the United States since the 1950s. Similarly, a 2010 report by the American Council on Education indicated the gender gap among American undergradua

tes has largely plateaued since 2000, with men now representing only 43% of enrolled undergraduates. The report noted the one exception to this trend: More Latino men than women are going to college despite the growth of overall Latino enrollment. 

men's development programming 1Overall, not only are fewer men enrolling; they also are being retained at a lower rate than women. The 2010 College Board Advocacy and Policy Center’s report The Educational Experience of Young Men of Color: A Review of Research, Pathways and Progress reflected a consistent achievement gap between men and women across all cultural backgrounds. In 2010, African American men had a six-year graduation rate of 35% compared with 45% for African American women. In 2009, white women took home 56% of bachelor’s degrees, according to the report.

For those young men who do enroll in college, research and observation reflects decreasing numbers engaged as volunteers, employees, and program participants in the programs and services offered by college unions and student activity programs. Given the important learning and student engagement related to these constructive, cocurricular learning experiences, the absence of male students represents problematic missed opportunities for college unions. Sadly, while male students are not engaged, they are getting in trouble. In 2001, the NASPA Journal outlined the overrepresentation of male undergraduates in college and university conduct systems.

Early Indicators of Trouble

We can see the roots of men’s challenges begin to emerge in adolescence. A 2012 Gallup poll examined the educational persistence of boys versus girls. Data showed that boys become psychological dropouts in education at a remarkably young age. In the study, as early as fifth grade, one in four boys had a weaker emotional connection with school, compared to one in five girls. While the gap persisted through middle school, it closed somewhat during high school years. Evidence for college dropouts would tend to suggest that men also suffer from a disconnection to higher education.

Such evidence leads to speculation about the cause of withdrawal. Fortune magazine cited The Rise of Women authors Thomas DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann for their coverage of this topic: “Boys get lower grades than girls, and report liking school less, not because girls are naturally more studious or because schools aren’t ‘boy-friendly’ enough. [Rather,] our research shows that boys’ underperformance in school has more to do with society’s norms about masculinity. … Boys involved in extracurricular cultural activities such as music, art, drama, and foreign languages report higher levels of school engagement and get better grades than other boys. But these activities are often denigrated as unmasculine.”

We do know that gender roles are being enforced with extreme pressure during these formative years. In their 2009 Journal of College Student Development article, Keith Edwards and Susan Jones noted that in elementary school, boys learn to live by the expectations to “be tough,” not cry, be competitive in sports, fight, and be disruptive. Later in life, this fear of appearing to care about academics, combined with an existing disengagement from formal education, are powerful obstacles to academic success. Could it be that such male gender role enforcement is causing some boys to simply disengage? Listening to the stories of young boys’ experiences, one may conclude that there is a plausible link between masculinity enforcement and educational engagement. The film The Mask You Live In, which will be released later this year by the Miss Representation project, shows the difficulties young boys encounter in trying to fulfill the “act like a man” expectation. Faced with such expectations, it makes complete sense that psychological withdrawal from educational institutions, family, community, and social interaction may be the result for young boys. Often for young men, the choice becomes to either prove your masculinity or—what is far more likely—simply say nothing. In other words, boys and young men are taught how to enact the withdrawal defense.

men's development programming 2Contemporary Research on College Men

As union administrators seek to address the challenges for young men on their campuses, it is important to be familiar with contemporary academic research concerning men. One of the ways in which we can begin to best understand masculinity is to look at the triad of violence model identified by Michael Kaufman, a leading scholar in the field of men’s studies. Kaufman’s model of the violence triad for men includes violence against women, violence against men, and violence against oneself. Within the college setting, we see all three types of violence on an almost daily basis. In his book The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, author Michael Kimmel wrote: “The belief that violence is manly is not carried on any chromosome, not soldered into the wiring of the right or left hemisphere, nor juiced by testosterone. Boys learn it.” According to Kimmel, violence by men is not naturally occurring; instead, it is artificially and societally inflicted as a learned expectation. The violence is part of the “man box” of expectations. If Kimmel is right and the nature of males is not violent, then persistent exposure to the orientation process for men to be violent must come at a high price.

Recognizing the role that societal norms play, significant work can be done to create a culture of individual responsibility among college men if the triad is to be deconstructed. Shifting men to a culture of care for others, care for self, and care for community is a worthy goal.

Likewise, when exploring what motivates college men to behave in a destructive manner to self and others, it is crucial to understand what influences male identity development. However, a significant obstacle to developing an authentic understanding of young male identity development is that research leading to many student development theories did not consider gender or difference. In their book College Men and Masculinities: Theory, Research, and Implications for Practice, Shaun Harper and Frank Harris III explained how this results in many problematic assumptions that inhibit our ability to understand the experience of the diverse contemporary population of young men. These assumptions include the idea that all young men benefit equally from gender privilege and as such do not require gender-based programs and initiatives. Another unfortunate assumption that Harper and Harris cite is the absence of focus on the experience of the non-white, non-heterosexual male. These assumptions are crucially important for those who hope to implement programming for college-aged men. Programming cannot assume that every young man has a shared experience, and space must be afforded to allow subpopulations to share their stories in an inclusive environment.

In light of the need to advance the study of identity development theory for men, it’s important to reference the growing body of work that does consider gender, privilege, and the intersectionality of identity for men. In the 1990 book Problem-Solving Strategies and Interventions for Men in Conflict, James O’Neil identified a significant idea that has informed the dialogue on men: male gender role conflict. Male gender role conflict is “a psychological state occurring when rigid sexist, or restrictive gender roles learned through socialization, result in personal restriction, devaluation, or violations of others or self,” O’Neil wrote. He suggested that all men experience anxiety when they attempt to adhere to the strict patriarchal script they inherit. In Tracy Davis’s 2002 article in the Journal of College Student Development, we can see a direct association with the challenges that exist within higher education for men, when we acknowledge that male gender conflict is correlated with “higher levels of anxiety, lower capacity for intimacy, negative attitudes toward seeking help, low self-esteem, negative attitudes, intolerance towards homosexuals, depression, and endorsement of traditional masculine ideology.”

Noting the largely ignored considerations of race, class, and sexual orientation, Edwards and Jones sought to take a social justice perspective on gender identity development that fully considered the degree to which young men responded to the hegemonic patriarchal expectations they inherit from society. The resulting model for identity development, which Edwards and Jones likened to performance or “putting my man face on,” describes young men’s attempt to live by often-
conflicting societal expectations that they be competitive, unemotional, aggressive, a financial provider, in a position of authority, strong, tough, and break the rules. Their research demonstrates that colleges and universities engage young men along one of the four stages of their development: “1) feeling a need to put on a mask, 2) wearing a mask, 3) experiencing and recognizing the consequences of wearing a mask, 4) beginning to transcend external expectations.” This theory shows the degree to which union and activities administrators can help young men understand the negative impact of what they understand to be societal expectations and liberate themselves from these expectations.

Campus Programming

The lack of action of men’s issues may be tied to the fact that it’s difficult to justify spending college or university resources on what many assume is already a privileged population. Few in academia would deny that men are a privileged gender over women. There’s a mountain of evidence to support that fact. Yet, with evidence of academic failure, addiction issues, incarceration rates, violence (both as perpetrators and victims), higher rate of suicide, depression, and early death, it would seem that there is sufficient need to ignite campus conversation about men.

men's development programming 3A number of institutions are developing programs to address the needs of men. The University of Oregon has had a Men’s Center since 2002 and was an early adopter of programs specifically aimed at serving college men. The program is led by a member of the University Counseling Center staff and offers not just a fixed location but also program engagement opportunities throughout the year. It is an example of what can happen when space is allocated and a drop-in culture is established. The program is, in part, funded by the Associated Students of the University of Oregon. It facilitates conversations and opportunities for reflection by male students, such as its 2013 program on men and consent, and actively participates in anti-violence messaging on campus. The center offers activities for men, such as rafting trips and other field trips where men can engage in healthy, recreational activities in an atmosphere of conversations about men’s lives.

Oregon State University’s entry into the men’s development program has come into existence only within the past few years. Although an active dialogue and program opportunities were occurring over the prior decade, no organized program effort existed until one was established in 2010 with funding from the vice president of student affairs office. The initiative began when a group of senior administrators at the campus met with area school district superintendents, community college leaders, and staff at the institution who had been active in both men’s and women’s development. It became clear during that conversation that young boys in early grades were languishing—a pattern also seen at the community college and university. As a result, a local program to focus on the wellness of young boys was established as well as the Men’s Development and Engagement program at Oregon State. The two efforts are linked by faculty and staff from the university who provide support and guidance. Male students from the community college and the university also serve as program volunteers and go through training specifically designed to help them lead younger boys through conversations about what they are experiencing and help them to make sense of their male socialization struggles. The second year of the program ended with a Healthy Masculinity Summit, which attracted both men and women participants to a two-day series of workshops and inspirational poetry reading by Carlos Andres Gomez, author of “Man Up.”

The third year of the Oregon State program has included a workshop on fathers supporting healthy masculinity, held during the annual Dad’s and Family Weekend. A second workshop was developed in response to a request from one of Oregon State’s fraternities to help them with the issue of violence and abuse of women. For this workshop, content was based on the teachings of Tony Porter, co-founder of A Call to Men. Porter speaks about the glide-path that allows men to perpetrate the worst types of violence against women. According to Porter, this pathway is enabled, groomed, and set up by all the men who perpetuate lesser forms of control, domination, and viewing women as less valuable than men. In other words, all it takes for the worst forms of violence against women to continue is for non-violent men to do nothing about sexism and patriarchy.

Elmhurst College represents a small college approach to helping young men to succeed. Campus administrators began their work by surveying recent male alumni regarding whether they had had conversations about what it means to be a male undergraduate. A majority of respondents indicated that they did not recall engaging in reflection about what it means to be a man but would have appreciated such opportunities. However, while the alumni associated value with the need for conversations about masculinity, a majority indicated that they would not have elected to participate in a program marketed as being about “men’s issues,” as it suggested that men were somehow flawed.

Informed by this feedback, staff from the college union, the Office of Intercultural Student Affairs, and athletics sponsored a series of gatherings called “The Better Men’s Initiative.” Participants were nominated and largely drawn from existing male peer groups, such as athletic teams and fraternities. Each meeting, staff would engage the participants in conversations related to topics such as the definition of manhood, rites of passage, the role of fathers, and role of media in socializing young men. Because the sessions were not marketed to suggest that men were flawed, attendance was generally good for a small college campus, and participating undergraduates typically responded extremely well to the content and opportunity to explore an important, but largely ignored, subject of masculinity. However, because the Better Men’s Initiative is not a formal, budgeted college program, staff members have struggled to expand the program beyond its current series of meetings.

Recommendations for Practice

As more staff respond to the enormous needs of college-aged men, several recommendations are valuable to consider.

Educate yourself

In his Leadership Exchange article “College Males: Keeping Them Engaged on Your Campus,” Jason Laker explained that one obstacle to better serving young men is that few student affairs graduate preparation programs include a focus on male gender identity. What results, according to Laker, is the assumption, also described by Harper and Harris, that all men enjoy the benefits of privilege equally, and that, “men are alright.” In developing campus programs, it is necessary to educate staff facilitators on the diverse intersectionality of male gender identity, understanding the unique experiences of marginalized populations. This education will help facilitators to check their own assumptions and refrain from presuming that an 18- to 24-year-old man should follow the same path or enjoy the same level of privilege the facilitator has.

Start the conversation

Once staff facilitators feel appropriately armed with contemporary gender development theory, it’s important to understand that young men can benefit from simply beginning to understand the negative effects of socializing expectations. In their research, Edwards and Jones revealed that young men do eventually begin to “experience and recognize the consequences of wearing a mask” and “begin to transcend external expectations.” Staff can help young men to move through these phases by sharing information about the historic and cultural roots of patriarchy, revealing the insidious ways in which it pervades society. Most importantly, they can create safe spaces in which young men don’t feel compelled to wear their masks. The new Miss Representation film The Mask We Live In is also available with a companion curriculum.

Develop alliances

Other groups likely exist on campus that care about this topic and want to be active partners in helping a program to form. Bring them together and figure out where alignment exists between groups. Also, conduct a program assessment. If the campus is large, union and activities professionals may be surprised to find exactly which areas of the campus are already engaged in work at the unit or program level.

Help young men understand that gender is socially constructed

Given the correlation that O’Neil revealed between the pressure of gender and men’s problems, there is value in helping young men understand that while powerful and entrenched, gender is a social construction. Explaining the historic gendering of everyday objects can help to reveal that gender is not inherent or genetically endowed. For example, Smithsonian magazine reported that the assignment of blue and pink to men and women is a result of corporate marketing in the 1940s, before which pink was thought to be appropriate for boys.

Bobbie Harro’s Cycle of Socialization describes how identities are formed: children receive initial messages from family, institutions, and then society about “expectations, norms, values, roles, and rules.” Enforcing pressures within society, such as stigmatizing difference or rewarding those who adhere to socialized expectation, results in anxiety, confusion, and self-hatred, Harro wrote. Such feelings, in turn, inspire each generation to perpetuate the cycle, imparting the same socializing pressures on the next generation.

As stated in the Role of the College Union statement, people in this field serve as campus community builders, developing persons as well as intellects and providing spaces that that honor each individual while valuing diversity. With an informed understanding of male identity development, college union and student activities professionals can break the cycle of socialization by helping young men understand the destructive effects of gendered stereotypes, refraining from engaging in “enforcing” behaviors, and role modeling alternative examples of masculinity.


Two books serve as valuable examinations of the struggle for college-aged men.

Sociologist Michael Kimmel’s book Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men provides a poignant portrayal of the state of arrested development for young men between the ages of 16 and 26. Restricted by what Kimmel describes as the “Guy Code,” young men drift aimlessly through their young lives, exhibiting restricted emotions and seemingly only motivated to hook up, binge drink, and play video games. Kimmel describes a population of young men, who exist “in between the dependency and lack of autonomy of boyhood and the sacrifice and responsibility of manhood.”

Carlos Andres Gomez shares a similarly bleak, yet compelling, take on college male development in his biographical account, Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood. Describing the intersecting socializing forces of gender and cultural identity, Gomez’s biography provides thoughtful examples of how young men can overcome restriction and lead lives of authenticity. 


Ian Crone - men's developmentIan Crone is the associate dean of students and director of the Frick Center/Student Activities at Elmhurst College. Crone has been active ACUI since 1995 and presently serves as chair of the Conference Program Team for this year’s annual conference in San Antonio. Crone graduated from Indiana University with a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs. 



Michael Henthorne - men's developmentMichael Henthorne is the director of the Memorial Union at Oregon State University, where he has worked for 28 years. He served as ACUI’s president in 2002–03 and was chair of the 1996 annual conference. Henthorne’s areas of professional interest include organizational dynamics, diversity development, masculinity, and
men’s development.