Male Faculty Organize Andover Men’s Group for Student Discussions on Manhood at Andover

A group of entirely male students and faculty gathered with mixed expectations for Andover Men’s Group’s first informal forum, this past Tuesday. Founded by faculty, Andover Men’s Group aims to provide opportunities for men to collectively deliberate the meaning and significance of being male in a welcoming and relaxed environment. Alexander Manshel, Teaching Fellow in English, originally fielded the idea to interested faculty peers, who then helped organize and facilitate the forum. Faculty who attended included Andrew Housiaux and Mike LeGaspi, Instructors in Philosophy and Religious Studies, Jeffrey Domina and David Fox, Instructors in English, Geoffrey Tanner, Instructor in Chemistry, Chris Capano, Director of Student Activities and Tony Rotundo, Instructor in History. Over 50 students attended the first meeting, which operated unofficially and separately from the school. The unofficial nature of Andover Men’s Group allowed for unprecedented exclusion of females. The forums will continue to only admit male students and faculty until the participants agree to open the discussions to the general public. Manshel said that in the future the forum intends to facilitate discussion between both male and female members of the Andover community. “But, as a means to that end, having Andover Men’s Group be completely male is critical. If students aren’t expressing their true opinions, we’re not going to get as far as we’d like in that dialogue.” Faculty members started the discussion with a prompt on distinctions of gender between various locations on campus and the reasons behind them. However, students soon led the forum into multiple, diverting directions that touched on differences in merit and competition between the sexes. As the meeting concluded, Andover Men’s Group discussed future topics and focuses for the forum. Manshel said, “The group extended naturally out of a series of discussions we were having as members of the faculty. After Professor Guinier’s speech on MLK Jr. Day, it seemed that there was a bubbling up of student interest in talking about gender and relationships between male and female students on this campus.” “Our goal was to create a safe space wherein male students could speak openly and think critically about gender and masculinity on this campus, and moreover, to consider what issues they face as male students,” Manshel continued. “A lot of what went on Tuesday that was successful was students recognizing both pressures and privileges of being guys on campus.” “The way I understood the group was going to be, was that it was going to be very experimental at this point. None of us had any clear idea of what was going to come of it,” said LeGaspi. “At the very least, we thought it was going to be this place where male faculty and students could feel a measure of freedom and liberty to speak about issues related to being male in an environment of solidarity, sympathy and understanding and a mutual experience,” he continued. Cameron Hastings ’12 said, “If girls were there, there would be no discussion. Some of the things people were saying shocked me, but I kind of liked that you could say those things. That’s the thing about an unorganized group, no one can get in trouble because ‘Men’s group said this’. It can’t get shut down because it’s just a concept.” Many people voiced their opinions on the merits of keeping the meetings unassociated with the school. “I hope it’s not institutionalized,” said Patrick Wolber ’11. “It was great to have teachers in there at sort of an equal level with students, where they did not have agendas for the forum. It’s also very odd to have only male faculty and students, but it’s a lot more comfortable, I’d say, because there are men who are a lot more mature and advanced in their lives who can talk to us about how being manly has impacted them.” Students began the discussion by separating locations by the gender of their main users. The group identified CAMD, Brace Center and other forums for expression as primarily utilized by female students, and various athletic areas for male students. The discussion then led to individual participant’s qualifications for merit and how their expectations differed from those of women. Wolber said, “I thought it was a good starting discussion. I think that we really just started getting into discussion, which is the most important part. There’s always this kind of barrier, and we were able to get past that. The topic was very open and I don’t think it was pointedly provocative, we just had to throw ourselves into discussion.” LeGaspi said, “I think we have a lot of work to do. The most successful part of the forum was creating an atmosphere in which people from a variety of perspectives and points of views still felt free to talk. “What we need to work at is turning that into dialogue, instead of opinions flying past each other, and into a place where one side is really hearing the other and not just using the other person’s comments to state their own opinion,” he continued. If it becomes that kind of thing, it’ll cease to be constructive.”