The Missouri State community is an established proponent for inclusion, students and staff alike.
Matthew Banks, coordinator of Multicultural Programs and LGBT Student Services and Laura Backer, associate director of Student Engagement, partnered with Dr. Thomas Lane, dean of students, to initiate a dialogue-focused program for support and inclusion of masculine students.
Banks and Backer designed the program after taking note of a blooming need.
Banks said the inspiration for MASC –– Men Addressing Social Construction –– came from a trend in college campuses and a trend of lacking resources.
Men and masculine-identifying students are becoming frequent sufferers of depression, anxiety and mental health concerns, Banks said. But those groups don’t always have supportive resources tailored to their needs.
“(Those students) are struggling with things in a system like toxic masculinity, which is this pervasive idea that punishes men who are ‘feminine’ or experience ‘feminine’ tendencies,” Banks said. “If you don’t see anything that helps them address it, through an identity-based cleanse while helping get them the services they need, things don’t get better.”
Banks said another trend contributes to it: men and masculine-identified students who hold leadership positions, but were never properly taught how to be a leader because of the stereotype that men already know how to lead.
“My partner, Laura, and I wanted to create a program specifically designed for men and masculine people to come together to talk about masculinity and how it affects their life,” Banks said. “How it has influenced their decision-making processes on campus, how they form relationships with other masculine people and how they form relationships with feminine or non binary people.”
The goal, Banks said, is for the students to understand how toxic masculinity has hurt their lives.
MASC is a leadership group. Participating students meet once a week for eight weeks to discuss a curriculum, also designed by Banks and Backer. Each meeting dissects another factor of toxic masculinity, including mental health, where masculinity comes from, body image, friendships, intimacy, dating and more.
There are two separate groups, and another starting up later in September, to initiate the program. While the current participants were invited to join by facilitators, the program will be open to any interested student in the coming few semesters.
But the most important theme is inclusion.
“We didn’t want this to be a ‘men’s program,’” Banks said. “We say ‘men and masculinity’ for a reason. Really, the program is designed for anyone who identifies as masculine.…We do have a couple students who identify as agender but are masculine-of-center and we do have some trans men who are involved.
“So, really, it was intentionally built not for men, but for masculine people, because toxic masculinity affects you whether you are designated as a man at birth, whether you identify as a man or whether you are masculine-of-center.”
Each group stimulates inclusion by conducting discussion under a shared identity and privacy. The idea behind each facilitator is to encourage a family mentality with one’s group members –– the facilitators’ identities are intended to reflect their group.
Lane facilitates one group, Banks another. Banks said he and Backer asked Lane to participate because of his involvement with the Student Government Association –– the students in his group are members of SGA or the SGA Senate.
“They invited me to facilitate and it was an immediate ‘yes,’” Lane said. “The intent is to create an opportunity for men to do self-work around areas for social justice, connect with each other and learn how to create stronger bonds.”
Banks said those bonds will be strengthened through dialogue and sharing experiences.
“A lot of times, (men and masculine people) don’t openly talk about our feelings and that makes it difficult to form authentic relationships with family, friends or loved ones, whoever that may be,” Banks said. “So, I think, the strength of this program is that, yes, it’s a leadership-development opportunity, but it’s also a relationship-development opportunity.
“It’s a chance to come in, learn about what you struggle with and be practicing with other people to be more vulnerable, so that when you go into the real world and start building relationships outside of MSU, you are able to connect on a deeper level.”