Last Friday, 75 Bowdoin men sat down to discuss their feelings.
The meeting was the third-ever Bowdoin College Men’s Summit, an event designed to bring men together to discuss issues of masculinity, including its role on campus. Invitations to the event were not limited to students.
“We included faculty and staff who identify as men, and students got to pick those,” said Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Director of the David Saul Smith Union Allen Delong, who helped organize the event. “So at every table at the men’s summit, it wasn’t just young men but also an older man to be part of the conversation.”
The event was led by keynote speaker Dr. Frank Harris, an associate professor at San Diego State University who has written extensively on the subject of masculinity. Much of his talk was about a concept of “good guys,” a term he uses to describe men who use leadership roles on college campuses to change their communities for the better.
“I think it went great,” said Delong. “One of the reasons is because Frank’s work is a little different than some other people writing in the field in that he doesn’t focus on boys behaving badly. There are a number of people writing that. That’s not his research. He talks about culture changers and the simple things that you can do to be a good guy. I love that he is positive and makes it simple.”
After Harris’ talk, the room broke into small groups to discuss the issues that had been presented.
The first Bowdoin Men’s Summit took place in Spring 2012, when Sarah Levin ’13 arranged for Michael Kimmel, professor at Stony Brook University and author of “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men,” to visit campus.
“Women wanted to be part of this conversation, and men wanted a more private conversation. We tried to cover that territory while Kimmel was here,” said Delong. “On the Thursday night he did a speech in a packed Kresge, and that was for anyone who wanted to come. Then he keynoted the men’s summit. That provided a sort of structure that we used for the subsequent two men’s summits.”
Last year, Sam King ’14 led the effort to organize a second Men’s Summit. Mark Tappan, a professor at Colby and co-author of Packaging Boyhood: Saving our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes, led the discussion.
The event was brought back for a second consecutive year thanks to what Delong called a “groundswell” of student support.
“From an administrative perspective, we were thinking we’d do it every two years. Some students said ‘We want to do it more often than that, and we want to do it this year.’”
A student committee consisting of Jarred Kennedy-Loving ’15, Oliver Klingenstein ’15, Jared Feldman ’16, Noah Salzman ’17, Tim Long ’17 and Greg Koziol ’17 organized the event.
For Klingenstein and Feldman, the Summit continued a conversation that they’ve been having since the beginning of the school year. Along with a fluid group of approximately ten other male students, they have met on a weekly basis to discuss issues of masculinity under the simple name of Bowdoin Men’s Group.
The group originated in a discussion group hosted by Brunswick resident Reverend Frank Strasburger, who came to campus in September to give a talk on the themes in his book “Growing Up: Limiting Adolescence in a World Desperate for Adults.”
“The talk was to be followed up by six Thursday night discussion groups on topics in the book,” said Strasburger, whose children graduated from Bowdoin in 2007 and 2008. “The first discussion group, an extraordinary thing happened: Only guys showed up. That absolutely never happens. At the end of it, I said that we should recruit some women for next time. But that weekend, I emailed everyone and said ‘Maybe we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. There aren’t that many men’s groups—maybe we should make a men’s group.’ The following week they agreed.”
Strasburger has had a long and varied career in education and ministry, notably spending 11 years as Episcopal Chaplain at Princeton University and founding Princeton in Africa in 1999.
Both Feldman and Klingenstein were acquainted with Strasburger before the fall. He presided over the marriage of Klingenstein’s parents, while Feldman met and bonded with him in a VIP Tires waiting room last spring.
“He came to one of our rugby games and was talking with my brother. My brother mentioned he went to the Harvey School [in Katonah, New York], and Frank was like, ‘Oh yeah, I was head of the upper school at Harvey.’ He’s that kind of guy.”
With Strasburger as facilitator, the Men’s Group spends Thursday nights discussing any and all facets of masculinity and being a man at Bowdoin.
“It’s not like we have anything planned for these conversations,” said Klingenstein. “Maybe an idea, and sometimes an idea carries through the whole time, or sometimes someone expresses something off of that that everyone really wants to be talking about, and, boom, we go in a whole different direction.”
“We had an interesting debate about what we thought men on this campus were versus how men were expected to be outside this campus,” said Feldman. “That question has been the foundation for a lot of our conversations.”
The group has a solid foundation of dedicated members, and Feldman said he believes the weekly and intimate nature of the discussions is to thank for that.
“It’s genuinely fun. It’s a fun conversation,” said Klingenstein. “It’s fun and light-hearted when we want it to be, and it’s intense and vulnerable when we want it to be.”
“We understand how hard it is to get people to come out at 7 p.m. on a Thursday night, and we want to foster a conversation that’s enjoyable and doesn’t feel like a classroom setting,” said Feldman. “No one wants to be in a class on a Thursday night.”
Starting this week, Strasburger is moving from his role of facilitator to one of an advisor.
“One of the things that I am concerned about and have expressed a number of times is whether my presence inhibits conversation,” he said. “On the one hand, I see my job as to keep everybody honest, to push them past the nice things they think they ought to say to the things they really feel. But at the same time, I’m 50 years older than anybody in the room and my place might formalize things a bit, while what we’re going for is an informal student conversation.”
“While we’re surprisingly open with [Strasburger] there, when we’re talking about issues of masculinity particularly on this campus, students can sometimes open up more effectively without Frank there,” said Feldman.
“He has a wealth of knowledge that we can rely on,” Feldman added. “Our plan is to have a planning meeting with him once a week where the student leaders chat with him to discuss potential topics.”
As the group goes forward, the Men’s Group looks to balance the personal nature of its meetings with outreach efforts. Among other ideas, Feldman mentioned a panel on masculinity featuring Bowdoin men that will be open to all students later this month.
“Future steps are still kind of up in the air, but for the remainder of this semester, we’re looking to solidify a dedicated group of people who are committed to coming to Men’s Group,” he said. “In the back of my mind, I definitely have thought about what we’re going to do if we grow beyond 15, 20 people. That would be a great problem to have.”
“The group isn’t to necessarily change the school, it’s to facilitate a conversation and not much beyond that,” said Klingenstein. “That’s proven to be amazing in and of itself.”