Last Spring, a team of faculty, staff, coaches, and students invited the renowned masculinity sociologist and distinguished author of Guyland, Dr. Michael Kimmel, to campus. Dr. Kimmel, one of the world’s leading experts on gender culture, spent three days meeting with students, faculty, staff, and administrators. Not only did he engage the community in conversation through workshops, lectures, class visits, and campus meetings, but he also committed to helping sustain a multi-year collaboration with the university. From the seeds of this new partnership, as well as those sown from monthly Men & Mentoring meetings involving faculty, staff, and students since 2014, came the idea of a “men’s retreat.”
For Jeff Kurtz, Associate Professor of Communication and Director of Denison’s Center for Learning and Teaching, and Cameron Morrison, ’06, Assistant Dean of Students for Sexual Respect, the retreat was seen as a way to provide a brave space, off-campus, for a close-knit, focused encounter where men might discuss issues facing them, as well as how performances of masculinities on campus impact the entire community. Early this Fall, 18 male-identifying students participated in the Men’s Retreat led by Dr. Kimmel and a broad cross-section of faculty and staff across the college.
The retreat brought together recognized leaders on Denison’s campus who used their 24 hours in solidarity to discuss issues of masculinity and hash out potential solutions to these concerns. Tommy McMaster ’19, DCGA senator and member of the lacrosse team, shared one discussion topic—the role of masculinity in social spaces on Denison’s campus. Though women are the numerical majority on campus, participants observed that men host and dictate nearly all social spaces in which residential parties and gatherings take place. Through dialogue, participants discussed the effects of this social power within the community. In response to this, participants discussed a possible solution: movement towards inclusive campus events to support Denison’s diverse community, designed especially for students who do not typically come together for social events. In partnership with campus resources and Denison’s administration, who are ready to work with students on promoting these types of collaborative social environments, these possibilities can become a reality. To help work through the creative problem-solving process, Men’s Retreat participants will use spaces like Denison’s Red Frame Lab, our center for innovation, design thinking, and creative problem-solving, to continue discussions and work to develop solutions to address unhealthy cultural norms of masculinity on campus.
Another participant, Thomas Locke ’18, Vice President of Denison’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group (DIG), a member of the Men’s Swimming & Diving Team, and Resident Assistant, noted that masculinity plays a larger role on campus than we commonly perceive. Some examples Locke pointed out include Denison’s party scene, athletics, relationships with faculty advisors, issues of sexual respect, and even social dynamics within residential halls. Locke shares, “It's important to talk about masculinity because it's influencing how students mobilize on campus especially within different organizations. Looking at the bigger picture after Denison, masculinity affects how you interact with your peers in the workforce and in your personal lives.” For many men, this kind of engagement and reflection can sometimes be challenging. However, Dr. Kurtz shares that the Men & Mentoring Group hopes to get more people on board while employing a conscious mindset that “rejects notions and practices of toxic masculinity and instead celebrates a variety of masculinities.” In doing so, retreat attendees and other interested faculty, staff, and students might continue to strive to create spaces for critical self-reflection, authentic discussions, and the capacity to build a genuine community at Denison.
The Retreat concluded with an explicit agreement that this is only the beginning of bringing discussions of masculinity to Denison’s campus. With follow up meetings and workshops, participants will continue to build upon the retreat experience, working to positively influence campus culture. McMaster hopes that in the future, men on campus will be able to have deeper conversations with one another about what it means to be a man, sharing his goal of a culture where: “We work to not put each other down, but build each other up.”
Note: The Men’s Retreat was made possible through dedicated faculty and staff we recognize here: Jeff Kurtz (Center for Learning & Teaching, Department of Communication), Cameron Morrison (Office of Sexual Respect), Fran Lopez (Modern Languages), Ben Daleiden (Residential Communities), Brian Hortz (Athletics), Erik Farley (Student Leadership & Community Engagement), Thomas Witherspoon (Multi-Cultural Student Affairs), Sam Cowling (Philosophy), John McHugh (Philosophy), Ching-chu Hu (Music), Matthew Vetter (Campus Leadership & Involvement), and Michael Guerrero (Persistence Team).
Written by: Emily Voutes ’19