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Summer research leads to first masculinities summit

February 22, 2019

The Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education is hosting Bowdoin’s first ever Masculinities Summit.

The two-day event, designed to address how perceptions of masculine identity shape men’s lives, grew out of research by Isaac Greenawalt ’19 on gender violence prevention.

Although this is the first Masculinities Summit on campus, Bowdoin hosted a similar event on a smaller scale a couple of years ago called “Men’s Room.” That event was open to a limited of number of students invited by nomination, all of whom identified as men.

The summit kicked off yesterday evening with a keynote speaker—comedian, actor and podcast host Chris Gethard—who was interviewed in a Q&A discussion by Eduardo Pazos, director of religious and spiritual life, and Jay Sosa, assistant professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies (GSWS). The conversation, which garnered a nearly full crowd in David Saul Smith Union with a high number of men in attendance, focused on masculinities and dialogue around being a man.

Andrew Walter-McNeill ’19, who attended the Q&A discussion, said he appreciated opening dialogue on a topic that can be difficult to engage with. He deemed the discussion to be valuable and described Gethard as funny, personable and approachable.

“I think most of what he spoke about was this notion of masculinity that he experienced when he was a kid, about this idea that you can’t show vulnerability as an adult man,” said Walter-McNeill.

Greenawalt has taken the lead in organizing the summit with Lisa Peterson, associate director of gender violence prevention and education. Greenawalt explained that bringing Gethard, someone whose work is not directly focused on masculinity, to discuss diversity within masculinities was part of an effort to attract as many people as possible, not just those interested in strictly academic discussions.

“We also wanted someone who had a good personality for discussing things [and] would be open about it—personalities beyond academia,” said Greenawalt. “Chris Gethard … [has] talked about his own struggles with mental health, his own relationships and his own career failures, and how he’s bounced back. He’s touched on some of the things we want to talk about relating to masculinity.”

Today, the summit included a conference with Mark Tappan, a professor of education at Colby, who teaches courses and conducts research that focus on male ways of socialization, the construction of masculinities and the development of healthy masculinities.

Tappan’s focus differs from Sosa’s work in the field of GSWS and from Pazos’ experience working with people on mental health and relationships. Together, Tappan, Sosa and Pazos reflect a few of the many different avenues to approach a discussion on masculinities.

Last summer Greenawalt worked with Peterson, investigating how to reshape some of the groups that operate under the Office of Gender Violence Prevention and examining how the community could expand gender violence prevention on Bowdoin’s campus.

As part of Greenawalt’s work, he looked into factors that could influence the prevalence of gender violence at the College. A culture of masculinity on campus emerged as a recurring theme. In response to Greenawalt’s findings, he and Peterson started planning the Masculinities Summit with the goal of addressing masculinities at a larger scale.

Although the Q&A and keynote speakers at the Masculinities Summit were open to all genders, the final reception to close the summit is exclusive to people that identify as “men in a way that is meaningful to them,” as described by the Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education.

Greenawalt has worked extensively to elicit participation from groups beyond the Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education. In an attempt to foster diverse and engaging discussion at the Friday morning workshops, he has recruited help from the Athletics Department, Peer Health, the Counseling Center, the Office of Residential Life the Center for Multicultural Life, and the Sexuality, Women and Gender Center. He hopes that the presence of these groups will bring in different networks associated with Bowdoin.

“We wanted to open up more of the summit [to] people [who] identify with all genders because [if] there’s some interplay between different gender identities and facts and ideas from other people, it would be really helpful,” Greenawalt said. “But there’s also, we thought, a kind of value in having a space that’s just for men to share in, maybe try to deconstruct some of these ideas, because I think the barrier for sharing and for maybe introspection is a little bit lowered if there’s a space for just people who identify as men.”


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