College is a time for students to experience personal development, growth and understanding. Higher education professionals strive to provide programming and counseling resources to these students, as they work to understand themselves. To assist with this, MIT's Fraternities, Sororities and Independent Living Group (FSILG) Office welcomed Dr. Michael Kimmel to campus on Thursday, Nov. 1 and Friday, Nov. 2 to deliver two keynote speeches about young men in their developmental college years and how they can be best understood and supported.
Kimmel is one of the world's leading researchers and writers on topics regarding men and masculinity. Kimmel's Thursday night keynote presentation at MIT was to a mostly undergraduate audience, followed by a Friday conference that welcomed student affairs professionals from across New England to take part an interactive discussion.
"In the spring semester, some alumni were talking about how college men today are different from when they were students at MIT," said Catherine Sohor, assistant director of FSILGs and primary advisor for fraternities. "I thought it would be great to see if we could bring Dr. Kimmel to campus to speak about just that since his book, 'Guyland,' covers that topic."
In preparation for Kimmel's arrival and the discussion that would follow, several fraternity men in the MIT community were provided with copies of "Guyland." Published in 2008, the book focuses on the transition period between 'boy' and 'man' and was a heavy topic of discussion at Kimmel's presentation to students. With a mostly undergraduate and fraternity-affiliated audience, Kimmel welcomed students from MIT as well as Boston University and Northeastern University.
"Dr. Kimmel's talk reiterated that fraternity life, if done right, can be a crucial piece to the growth of a young man," said Tim Stuer, the president of Beta Theta Pi at Northeastern University. "I went home contemplating my own experiences as a 22-year-old male in college. As the president of a fraternity, I find myself dealing with the challenges that 'Guyland' presents and also find myself trying to help the rest of my brothers through these same challenges."
From the culture of hooking up, to the stereotypes associated with fraternity men in college, Kimmel spoke about topics that students could relate to, regardless of where or what they studied.
"Inter-school collaborations have not been common in the past, but the council was eager to share our resources and spur good discussions with our inter-fraternal peers," said MIT Interfraternity Council Vice President Louis DeScioli. "We are always looking for programming opportunities to educate and benefit the community and we believed that Dr. Kimmel did so very well."
Keynote and conference
While the topics were similar at the Nov. 2 keynote, the FSILG office facilitated a more in-depth discussion following Kimmel's speech. Titled "Today's College Man: A Discussion on Men and Masculinities in Higher Education," the conference featured Kimmel's keynote lecture, as well as three breakout sessions where attendees were encouraged to delve deeper into subtopics regarding men they interact with at their institutions.
"My job, as I see it, is to try and start some conversations between adults who minister to the lives of the students and between the students themselves," Kimmel said prior to his keynote. "I want the administrators to talk with them about how they're going to plan their lives, how are they going to act ethically, what happens when the demands of the brotherhood contradict their internal moral compass, where do you go for support about it. That's the kind of conversation I want to provoke."
Kimmel referenced and read from his published works about what men are focused on during their college years, how women's roles influence them, and encouraged the audience to become as involved as possible in helping the men achieve their search for masculinity by offering programs and guidance.
"His concept of 18-year-old men looking to prove their masculinity to 19-year-old men really helped frame the issues and challenges we are dealing with on college campuses," said Alex Brown, the coordinator of greek life and student leadership at Keene State College. This idea was one that many of the attendees found revealing when it came to reasons why things such as hazing and other forms of reckless behavior seem so prevalent during a man's college years.
After Kimmel's keynote, more than 30 attendees stayed for various breakout sessions to discuss topics such as: Women in 'Guyland'; masculinity and hazing; the non-traditional male student; interventions, programs; services for college men; and others. The audience included professionals from various New England institutions, who held diverse positions, from those who work directly with fraternity men, to others who coached an athletics team or provided counseling to undergraduate students. Conference attendees were encouraged to tweet about their discussions and use the hashtag #HEmen, so that others may follow and continue the discussion after the conference concluded.
"It's important for us to better understand the development of our male students if we want to effectively work with them," Sohor said. "I'm grateful to have had the support of everyone involved. And this is just the beginning of this conversation."