I’m a recent alumnus and so I continue to get e-mails from my undergraduate university. Usually I just discard them, but I got one today that caught my attention. Here is the body of the e-mail, for your consideration:
Campus & Community Involvement (CCI) is excited about a new initiative and invites all male students at [my undergrad] to participate in the first annual men’s conference. The mission of the conference is to engage in conversation about issues related to college men and identify strategies to aid your development. Conference participation is open to all male students at [my alma mater] to ensure maximum interaction and sharing of perspectives. The goals of the conference are to:
- Identify significant strategies to develop a positive self image
- Identify potential hazardous behaviors that can lead to physical and emotional distress
- Promote healthy lifestyles choices
- Encourage participation in meaningful experiences on campus
- Prepare college men for post graduate success
The conference will consist of workshops with topics related to healthy relationships, career planning, academic achievement, campus involvement, bystander intervention, health and wellness, and male identity development. Lunch will be provided at no cost to participants followed by a panel discussion with three distinguished alumni moderated by Professor William Burke. Panelists include Walter Huntley (Chairman of [my undergrad] University Board of Trustees), Mark Larson (Founder of the KIPP Aspire Academy in [the University's home city]), and Dirk Elmendorf (Co-founder of Rackspace Technology). The conference will conclude with a keynote speaker, and closing reception cosponsored by Athletics held at the home of [the University president].
This flier accompanied the e-mail.
The Dean and I have a friendly relationship (as I was fairly active on campus) and so I responded to this e-mail with the knowledge he’d reply. “Hey Dean,” I said, “this looks great! When will the Women’s Conference take place?… There will be one, right?”
His response: “The women are so far ahead of the men, they don’t need a conference!”
I know that universities are desperately trying to hang on to men right now; for example, three women will receive a B.A. this year for every two men who do the same, and this conference could be an effort reflecting that. But it still doesn’t sit right with me. Like all events, it will cost money, and to me this suggests that ‘stuff for guys’ is in the budget while ‘stuff for girls’ is not (since they’re not having a conference for women). It tells the female students that they aren’t as important; that they can do without “proactive methods and strategies to assist with their academic, physical, mental, and social growth” because we’re “so far ahead of the men.” It also reveals a Dean of Students who is woefully out of touch.
Am I being too sensitive here? I want to write a letter to the editor of our newspaper, given your responses; however, I’m not a student anymore– am I irrelevant? Is this even an issue? What should be other points made or questions asked?
It’s not about whether or not the event will be well-attended, or if the University has discriminatory motivations for running this conference (which I highly doubt). I just think that if the University– not a student group– is sponsoring an event to one gender, an equivalent event should be offered to other gender identities as well.