Nov. 17, 2010
Contact: Karen B. Eldridge, Director of Communications
Their “unofficial mascots” are vintage – a circus strongman and a turn-of-the-century kilted Scotsman – but members of the Maryville College Men’s Action Network (MC M.A.N.) are actually on the quest for a true picture of the modern man.
Not to put on their posters, but to order their lives.
“In some ways [MC M.A.N.] is a rejection of today’s images of manliness like the consumer driven/vain metrosexual, or the lazy man-boy who never grows up and has no ambition, or even the ‘dumb dad’ model we see in television shows and movies,” said Preston Fields, director of volunteer services and sponsor of the College’s newest organization. “The idea is kind of a return to the older values of our grandfathers’ generation of loyalty, hard work and self reliance while leaving those things in the past that should be discarded like racism, homophobia and sexism.”
Approximately 50 male students have signed up to join MC M.A.N. Weekly meetings typically draw a smaller number, but the group is gaining visibility and hopes to be recognized soon as an official club by the College’s Student Government Association.
According to Fields, students suggest topics and are largely responsible for inviting speakers and arranging programs. So far this semester, members have experienced a “Man Cooking” class that taught them how to cook a meal for a date using only a microwave and a George Foreman grill (which are both allowed in all residence halls), and they joined Sisters in Spirit, a female organization on campus, in a candlelight vigil against domestic violence.
After Thanksgiving, a lunch program is planned to teach the male students how to wrap Christmas presents. A workshop on learning how to tie a bowtie is also in the works.
“In the spring we hope to learn some auto repair and how to plant a garden because, as one member put it, ‘It’s manly to grow your own food,’” Fields said.
The performance of male students at colleges and universities across the United States is on the decline, according to national studies. MC M.A.N. was formed, in part, to address the issue on the MC campus, said Bruce Holt, director of counseling.
Holt has been tracking MC-specific data for nearly a decade now. The gender issue came to his attention – sharply – a few years ago when his elementary-school-aged son posed this question: “Daddy, why are girls better than boys?”
Curious about how his son would form that idea, Holt started paying closer attention to research on the subject and how the College’s male students were faring. What he found was consistent with what was being reported, nationally – females consistently graduating in higher numbers and carrying higher grade point averages in college. (Of 2009 MC graduates, 60 percent were female; 40 percent were male.) He found that male students led, sadly, in categories like academic probation and judicial offences.
“[Helping male students succeed] is an issue of great importance to me,” said Holt, who has led all-male freshman orientation groups and taught a January Term Course titled Gender Studies: The Masculine Perspective. “The attitude behind MC M.A.N. is not ‘Let’s fix men because they’re broken;’ it’s ‘Let’s help young men become good men.’”
Holt said male students often feel pushed into become “caricatures” of men because they lack other examples. Television shows and commercials, movies and books often portray males as idiots who are dependent on the smart women in their lives to take care of their needs and the needs of the family.
In a recent class, he showed a film that claimed that masculinity was the “No. 1. public health problem in the United States.”
“How is it helpful to vilify masculinity?,” he asked. “Young men need to feel good about those attributes of being a man. These are our future fathers, husbands and leaders.”
Kyle Finnell, one of the members and a senior history and sociology double-major, said the male-focused organization is not just encouraging young men to stay in school, but to excel throughout the college experience.
“Personally, and I believe my peers would agree, this organization is needed to not only to help males address issues directly related to the academics of MC but also to help provide a support structure for male students as they experience the drastic changes from adolescence to adulthood.
“Our culture has lost many of those rights of passage for boys to proclaim themselves men. It is the hope of all involved that we can change the ambiguity regarding masculinity that most young men face entering college, and serve as exemplary figures to help one another reach our highest potentials,” Finnell added. “This is not necessarily focused on the male students of MC, but extends to young males in the communities of Blount County.”
With the recent 10-year celebration of the American Association of University Women’s Sister-to-Sister Summit on the MC campus, Holt said he and other men on campus wholeheartedly support the advancement of females – but don’t want the needs of the other half of the population to be overlooked.
“This is not a zero-sum game,” he said. “We can learn from the feminist movement – take those lessons and tools that helped young women reach their potential and apply them to our young men.”
Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state‘s third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for its academic rigor and its focus on the liberal arts, Maryville is where students come to stretch their minds, stretch themselves and learn how to make a difference in the world. Total enrollment for the fall 2012 semester was 1,093.