Jayhawks aim to change masculine culture

By Michael P Garrett

It was the kind of divorce that didn’t end on bad terms, but it didn’t end on good terms either. Mauricio Gomez Montoya’s parents split up when he was 13 years old. After that point he never really saw his dad.

Gomez Montoya grew up in Mexico City, raised by his mother. His brother, only two years older, was the first real male role model he had in his life. Gomez Montoya and his older brother had to figure a lot of things out on their own; there are some things that mothers just can’t provide to teenage boys that a father can.

“We had to learn how to tie ties from our neighbor,” Gomez Montoya said.

Learning to tie a tie, changing a tire and learning how to catch a baseball weren’t the only things Gomez Montoya was missing out on by not having a father present. He was also missing out on having the awkward yet necessary conversations fathers have with their sons.

Conversations about how to treat women, how to set goals, how to lead by example, how to be humble or even how to be carry yourself as a man are all difficult for mothers to emulate. Many of these lessons Gomez Montoya had to learn on his own.

Today, Gomez Montoya works as a retention specialist for the Office of Multicultural Affairs at KU. He has had his hand in a multitude of student aid and enrichment programs including the Hawk Link Program, PRE 101, a freshman orientation course, Student Union Activities, Hispanic American Leadership Organization and many more. All of these organizations aim to improve student life here at KU and help students succeed.

One of Gomez Montoya’s newest projects includes tackling the problems facing masculinity on KU’s campus. He wants to be a role model for students as well as help create an environment at KU where man can express issues they’re having with school, work, family and any other area of life.

“If I needed it 10 years ago, chances are students need it now,” Gomez Montoya said about being a positive role model for male students.

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Helping male students is imperative, especially since they’re the ones most in need of guidance at the college level. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, only 57.7 percent of male KU students are graduating within in six years, compared to the 64.2 percent of female KU students that are graduating in six years.

Gomez Montoya said a reason for this could be lack of focus and guidance among college-aged men.

“There are not a lot of role models and men are trying to figure it out on their own, Gomez Montoya said. “Sometimes I think group behaviors take over.”

These group behaviors can come in many forms: fraternity houses, locker rooms, things men view on TV or hear in music, social media or even just spending time with friends.

Dr. Tracy Davis, a professor from Western Illinois University, is an expert in identity and development as well as men and masculinity issues. He said these group behaviors among men are extremely negative and can sometimes develop into illegal activity, such as DUI citations or violence.

“The research would suggest that the statistics on ‘bad behavior’ judicial offenses brought up at college campuses are mostly men,” Davis said. “Why we don’t pay attention to this is a great question.”

KU is, in fact, starting to pay attention to these bad or unhealthy behaviors among male students. Each year, KU selects 15 male students, faculty or staff members as Men of Merit. This award goes to men who positively define masculinity through challenging norms, take action and lead by example while making contributions to KU or the community. Mauricio Gomez Montoya was a 2013 Man of Merit winner.

One winner from 2012, Kris Velasco, decided to take his role as a Man of Merit one step further. Velasco sent out an email to other Man of Merit winners asking if they would like to continue challenging social norms facing men by creating a masculinities symposium.

The goal of this symposium was to create a space for men to gather and openly discuss problems they are facing as well as to help men develop a view on what healthy masculinity looks like.

“It was a sense of duty and obligation,” Velasco said on helping create the symposium. “Now that we won, we have a duty to teach people what what it means to be a man.”

Velasco graduated in the spring of 2013, but during his time at KU he was involved in almost every organization on the hill. He said he felt his masculinity was challenged at times because of his sexual orientation.

“Sometimes I felt like I didn’t get respect as a leader in groups because I was gay,” Velasco said. “Personality-wise, I wasn’t good at being mean or harsh when it came to giving direction, and people questioned whether I would be able to lead since I don’t have the stereotypical masculine traits.”

Another part of the symposium is to show men that it is OK not to fit the stereotypical masculine traits. Things like showing emotion, expressing feelings and being vulnerable, which are usually classified as un-masculine traits, are encouraged at the symposium.

After Velasco kick-started the symposium, Gomez Montoya and other students, faculty and staff members have worked on beefing up the annual program.

Velasco said he thinks masculinity issues and lack of focus among men isn’t just a KU problem, but a national problem.

In comparison to other universities across the nation, KU is doing a decent job on improving the retention on male students and keeping them focused. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the national average of men graduating in six years is 53 percent, compared to 57.7 percent at KU.

“I would like to see KU spearhead changing the national trend and develop a masculinities study,” Velasco said. “The fact that this conversation is taking place shows that yes we do have an issue, but we’re being proactive about it.”

Mauricio Gomez Montoya said the next big step is awareness. Hopefully, students and staff are beginning to see things they didn’t see before. After men develop an awareness, they can challenge each other by asking questions such as “why will chugging this bottle of beer, skipping class or sleeping with countless women make me more of a man?”

Ultimately, it is up to the individual to make a change.

“I want to foster the culture that you don’t need to have someone around you to keep you accountable,” Gomez Montoya said.

Who knows, maybe a change in culture is just the wake-up call men need.

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