Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Engaging Men in Difficult Dialogues about Privilege

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Engaging Men in Difficult Dialogues about Privilege

Article excerpt

Male privilege is one aspect of social inequality that underlies much of the oppression and violence that occurs on college campuses. Mad Skills, a program addressing power and privilege with college men, is described along with general recommendations about how to engage men in difficult dialogues. The PIE Model is used to describe defensive behavior observed in college males.

Male power and privilege underlie many problems on campus, and student affairs professionals must engage men in dialogues about these issues. Although masculinity encompasses positive, neutral and negative traits, some aspects of male socialization intersect with the unequal social distribution of power and privilege. This intersection can result in men's negative behaviors including oppression, interpersonal violence, and devaluing others (Kaufman, 2001; Sanday, 1990). Yet male power and privilege go largely unaddressed. Among men, lack of awareness about their power may generate resistance when they are asked to engage in conversations about power and privilege (Watt, 2007). Therefore, to make such conversations successful, we must understand and address the interaction of male power, socialization, and men's behavior. Similar to insight about other developmental processes (e.g., racial identity development), student affairs professionals can use this understanding to develop empathy, contextualize behavior, and embed dialogues in the language of the target audience. Professionals can then design and implement more effective interventions to deepen men's engagement in difficult dialogues. Our approach is centered on the premise that men are inherently good and well intended. We believe college men are more open to being held accountable for their behavior if they are approached in accepting, nonshaming ways that acknowledge their socialization.

In this article, we use the term difficult dialogues (Watt, 2007) to include dialogues with male students designed to develop or enhance their awareness of the impact of male power and privilege. As Watt suggested, difficult dialogues are contextualized by a range of (a) internal and external challenges experienced by practitioners (e.g., discomfort, stress, and legitimacy concerns) when raising issues of privilege with students and (b) student and colleague defensive reactions to the dialogues. We recognize that individuals possess multiple aspects of identity (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, social class). For example, men from different backgrounds have different experiences of power and privilege (Kaufman, 1994). Despite these discrepancies, we focus our attention in this article on dialogues with men and male privilege. Rather than thinking of masculinity as a factor that is the same for men from all different backgrounds, we urge practitioners to conceptualize masculinity as one of many intersecting aspects of identity to be considered when working with an individual or group of students.

In the following pages, we provide an overview of male socialization and its impact on college men's behaviors, attitudes and beliefs. We describe how understanding male socialization can help (a) demystify men's defensiveness or withdrawal from dialogues, and (b) identify ways to address privilege while positively engaging men in difficult dialogues. We use Watt's PIE model (2007) as a framework for conceptualizing men's reactions to difficult dialogues. Finally, we provide an example and share recommendations from our conversations with men.


Although men's socialization experiences differ on the basis of individual, family, cultural, racial/ethnic, sexual orientation, socioeconomic, and other factors, many similarities exist. The gender socialization process in which boys and girls are treated differently by family, peers, and society starts at birth and continues throughout one's lifetime (Fagot, Rogers, & Leinbach, 2000). Boys are socialized to adopt a code of behavior that includes independence, aggression, confidence, emotional inhibition, and avoidance of any behaviors that might be considered "feminine" (David & Brannon, 1975; Mahalik, Good, & Englar-Carlson, 2003; O'Neil, Helms, & Wrightsman, 1986). …

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