From 30 years of staggering drops in educational attainment, to a pervasive but largely unacknowledged subculture of misandry, to the erosion of the rights and protections afforded male students in the event that they are wrongly accused of sexual misconduct, there is much that earns our concern when it comes to the plight of male students in academia. We are in need of some good news.
I am happy to bring you that today regarding Project MALES, a successful program based at UT Austin. This is not your typical diversity program!
Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success) is a program hosted by UT Austin’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. It is directed by Dr. Victor Saenz, whose is increasingly recognized nationally as the “go-to” authority on Latino male issues in education. I attended their first three annual symposia from 2011-2013, and volunteered to help with the first. I came into contact with the group through its then-project coordinator Sarah Rodriguez (now the research coordinator), a fellow alumnus and old friend from Texas A&M-Commerce, where I advocated for the rights of male students who were wrongly accused of sexual misconduct. Sarah Rodriguez also spoke at a the Bill Martin, Jr. Symposium at A&M-Commerce in 2011 on Latino male issues in education.
While A Voice for Male Students will largely remain race-neutral in its approaches to gender equity in education (emphasizing what our educational institutions are most reluctant to acknowledge – the needs of men and boys as males), as an advocate for men and boys in education I have often found it beneficial – indeed necessary – to analyze the trends of inequity and raw data for all demographics in education and observe how each intersects with the rest. I still have the packets from all four symposia; you may see the sheets of stats and charts from the 2011 Project MALES symposia packet here and here.
From this data you will see that while males (African-American males especially) are the majority demographic that is most at-risk academically, Latino males have in recent years become the majority of dropouts. Other Latino male issues that are not presented in the data sheets but covered in the symposia is the almost total lack of Latino male teachers in higher education, the increasing disappearance of fathers in Latino families, and the pressures of machismo that deter Latino students from seeking help.
Having seen their work firsthand for over three years and speaking with the members of the team and their affiliates, I can vouch that what makes this program unique among diversity programs in academia is that it is hosted and run by people who “get it” when it comes to gender issues. I would not be covering them in such a positive fashion if I was convinced otherwise. At their symposia, for example, Project MALES staff routinely state that the academic culture needs to embrace the idea that gender equity is not a zero-sum game. They also remind the audience that while men and boys are the majority sex at the top of society (CEOs, politicians, the best jobs, and so forth), they are also overrepresented at the bottom of society as well (the homeless, those in prison, those working the most brutal and deadly jobs, and so forth).
Most schools and diversity administrators, by contrast, see inequity in educational attainment as primarily a factor of race and income (as mentioned by Richard Whitmire in his book Why Boys Fail and trumpeted in online education publications such as Inside Higher Ed) and are grudgingly reluctant to publicly mention gender as a serious problem.
My volunteer work with 2011 symposia primarily consisted of leading and facilitating small-group discussions during breakaway sessions (click here see the list of questions I was directed by Project MALES to cover). I also acted as one of the advisers for then-project coordinator Sarah Rodriguez.
From 2010-2012 Project MALES consisted primarily of a research team and a parallel mentoring team called XY Zone, which recruits college students to volunteer to mentor high school students (peer mentoring is also advocated by Dr. Michael Gurian in his book Boys and Girls Learn Differently, an essential book for researching male education issues). I was permitted by XY Zone coordinator Dr. Robert Bachica to read the official XY Zone curriculum, but out of respect for his request I cannot present (nor did I take) any copies of the actual curriculum pages. What I can tell you is that, in addition to educational attainment, the XY Zone curriculum also focuses on character building.
It is also impossible to adequately address the issues of male students (and male students of color especially) without addressing the phenomenon of fatherlessness and the lack of positive male role-models. In the 2011 symposium I was introduced to Fathers Active in Communities and Education (FACE), an affiliate group with seeks to build educational ties between fathers and their children. See more at their website.
In the 2012 summer symposia, during his opening address, Dr. Saenz issued what he called an indictment (his choice of words) for the failure of the academic community to act on the pressing academic needs of men and boys. “I do not believe that indictment is too strong a word, and I do not use that word lightly,” he said. “What we are ultimately doing is diverting young men from paths of success. Not enough of us are doing the work of researching this issue.”
Equally telling was now-research coordinator Sarah Rodriguez’s presentation of her interviews with students, teachers and administrators in schools around Texas. One school administrator (who wished to remain anonymous), when asked about the educational crisis among males in education, was quoted by Ms. Rodriguez as saying, “We don’t acknowledge it, because to acknowledge something means that you have to do something about it. So we don’t acknowledge it.”
During the 2013 symposium Project MALES announced a new wing of their program (a networking initiative, which they seem to be particularly proud of), and reaffirmed many of the issues they had covered in the first two symposia. While I was happy to see Dr. Luis Ponjuan (a passionate and engaging speaker whom I met in the 2011 symposium) speak again in this symposium, what stood out perhaps the most was Dr. Saenz’s presentation, during which he summarized the lessons he has learned over the course of three years as executive director of Project MALES (click here to download all the presentation slides, or here to see/hear the presentation on my YouTube channel).
In particular, what surprised me was this slide of his presentation, and his introduction to a crowd of academicians to numerous men’s issues that men’s advocates have been covering for quite a while:
What’s this we are seeing? Concern for violence against men? Parental rights for men? The disparity in 6th amendment rights to face accusers under rape shield laws? Overcriminalization of men and boys? Disparities in lifespan and health funding? This doesn’t sound like your traditional academic diversity program. It sounds like something out of Dr. Warren Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power! Indeed, during this segment Dr. Saenz did everything short of waving a flag and say men’s rights are human rights. Now this is what progress looks like: addressing issues that have not yet been substantially addressed.
I’m impressed by your courage and integrity, Dr. Saenz. Well done, and best wishes in the future.
One YouTube commenter pointed out that while Dr. Saenz stated what some men’s issues were, he did little to address how they arose in the first place, or what the proper solutions to these issues might be. To do that, of course, he would have to address not only traditionalism and “women and children first” notions of chivalry, but also the misandry of extreme Feminism, the latter being a general “no no” for academics.
To be fair to Dr. Saenz, however, his group is concerned with educational attainment and student well-being first and foremost. And there is something to be said for a good cop/bad cop approach. This website will pursue a more holistic approach to educational equity. It will understand and openly acknowledge that academic achievement is one of three very important areas of concern, right alongside misandry and conformism in education (the academic culture), and rights and protections.
Here at A Voice for Male Students, we will be doing it all. In the first few days of this website we have thus far seen several posts regarding the educational needs of boys. We will be covering misandry in education next.