Not long ago at the University of Vermont, it was move-in day for the Class of 2027. About a thousand freshmen were meeting their roommates, finding their dorms, and settling in. on the campus. At first glance, you might think this was an all-women’s college: 62 percent of this year’s students are women, a gender gap that earned Burlington, Vermont, a nickname: Girlington.
“You’re seeing six or seven women for every three or four men,” said Jay Jacobs, UVM’s vice provost for enrollment. Its work is based above all on the diversity of students, and these days, the male/female divide is now part of this equation. “Of course I thought about racial and ethnic diversity,” Jacobs said. “Of course, at a public highlight event in the state of Vermont, I thought about geographic diversity. Never such gender diversity. That’s where we are.”
UVM is hardly an exception. Nationally, women make up nearly 60% of undergraduate students.
In 1972, when Title IX was passed to help improve gender equality on campus, men were 13 percent more likely to earn an undergraduate degree than women; today, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, women are 15% more likely to obtain a diploma than men.
“We have a bigger gender gap today than when we passed laws to help women and girls; it’s simply reversed,” said Richard Reeves, a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He says no one has really been able to explain Why so many men are so absent in higher education. What is known is that the gender disparity begins in kindergarten, where girls are generally the stronger sex among academics.
Reeves said: “If you look at the high school GPA and those who get the highest grades in high school, two-thirds of them are girls. Those with the lowest grades, two-thirds of them are boys.”
It has been theorized that girls and women today are simply fulfilling their destiny: once the limits of their achievements were lifted, they took flight. Reeves, who just launched the American Institute for Boys and Men, worries that things have changed so quickly that many boys and men are struggling to catch up, not only in the classroom, but also at work and at home .
“What does it mean to be a successful man today? That was a pretty easy question to answer a generation or two ago,” Reeves said. “But actually, what is the answer today? A lot of these guys just don’t know.”
In short, he says that millions of boys and men no longer understand how or where they fit in, and their reaction is usually to disconnect. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, male labor force participation has fallen more than 7 percent over the past 50 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21% of men report drinking excessively (nearly double the rate of women) and men are responsible for nearly 80% of suicide deaths (four times the rate of women).
Reeves said: “The two most common words used by suicidal men to describe themselves were useless And no value“.
But even suggesting the existence of some sort of male crisis is perilous these days, Reeves said: “Just talking about it will make people roll their eyes and say, ‘Really?’ Ten thousand years of patriarchy, and NOW Are you worried?'”
After all, women still only earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes (according to the Pew Research Center). Only a fraction (10.4%) of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. And women make up only a quarter (28%) of members of Congress and (so far) no U.S. presidents.
These numbers leave UVM students Sarah Wood and Maxine Flordeliza quite skeptical that the men are barely treading water. “I think it’s very interesting that there’s sort of a hullabaloo around this topic — not a hullabaloo, but it’s a conversation that people are having,” Wood said. “But I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem?”
“I think just because the playing field is a little more level shouldn’t be the reason why men don’t really know where they stand,” Flordeliza said.
“Of course, do we need to do more to encourage more women to enter politics and corporate boards? Yes,” Reeves said. “But in the meantime, can’t I see that one group is in trouble here, and another group is in trouble there? And if I don’t get it right, we’re in a very difficult situation. ”
And those who are struggling the most, he says, are working-class boys and men and African-Americans.
Von Washington Jr., executive director of community relations with The Kalamazoo Promise in Michigan, said, “It used to be you graduated high school, ‘Goodbye, you’re on your own.’ A lot of people said, “Hey, you’re out of my house. » Or “It’s time for you to go.” But we now understand that this support must continue. »
The Kalamazoo Promise program provides Kalamazoo high school graduates with scholarships that cover the full cost of tuition at universities across the state. The impact? The number of Kalamazoo women earning a college degree has increased by about 45 percent. But the number of Kalamazoo men earning a college degree hasn’t changed.
“We work with them, we talk with them,” Washington said. “We’re trying to find out why, even with this opportunity, you have the same challenges as someone in another community who doesn’t have this opportunity.”
One solution that seems to work is to guarantee men in difficulty a place to live freely. admit they have difficulty. Employees at The Promise track down men still eligible for the scholarship, find out why they never used it, and help them get what they need to finally do it – like Daniel Jaffari. “I just started wandering through life and doing random jobs, I got tired of doing random jobs,” Jaffari said. “And now I’m here!”
He joined dozens of other men at what The Promise called their Males of Promise event. Another participant was Denis Martin, who graduated from high school six years ago. He said if the Promise hadn’t found him, he might not have realized he was ready for something more. “I feel like I now have the discipline to do a five-year program or a four-year program,” he said. “When I was a kid, I felt like I was bouncing off the walls and my mind didn’t know exactly what was there.”
Back at UVM, administrators have shifted their marketing and communications strategies to reach men, particularly those who don’t think they want to go to college at all. The college is also hiring a diversity coordinator who will focus specifically on helping men.
Jacobs told Cowan, “The world is built for people like you and me to succeed, so why do we need to help even more men succeed here on our campus? But I think once people start to understand the nuances and the challenges, we that I’m talking about here today, people understand that all students need support. »
Lucas Roemer, a junior at UVM, does not see it as a kind of positive discrimination that would put his finger on the scales of men. He sees it as a way to help all those who are hanging on and feeling excluded. “I think there are ways to promote both femininity and masculinity on campus,” he said. “I think there’s definitely a path forward that could be beneficial for everyone.”
The Men and Masculinities program coordinator will be housed in the Center for Women and Gender Equity – ironic for some. But it is also a recognition that men’s problems can coexist with women’s problems. “You lift the edges, the center will be lifted as well,” Jacobs said. “And here the edges include men.”
This is the kind of response to the very real problems of boys and men that Richard Reeves says should be the rule, not the exception: “This is not some made-up crisis of masculinity.” pieces. This is a very real reality. real suffering here, and if we’re not addressing real suffering, then why are we here? »
For more information:
- “Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It” by Richard V. Reeves (Brookings Institution Press), in hardcover, ebook, and audio formats, available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Bookshop.org
- Richard Reeves on the American Institute for Boys and Men
- University of Vermont (UVM), Burlington, Vermont.
- The Kalamazoo Promise, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Story produced by Mark Hudspeth. Editor: Mike Levine.