We talked today at the Confab about how to engage males on campus. Much talk occurred around the nature of the video game culture on social relationships between men in the University. Male students are more likely to be cooped up in their bedrooms playing Call of Duty than working the service table for Relay for Life or joining the debate societies. This conversation turned into the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of video game culture in student life and future preparation, but I think this misses the point. The presenter made a comment that his current institution had a cigar aficionado club, of which a female student was president. He wasn’t saying this to reinforce old-school gender stereotypes, but to say: really? Where are all the men in Student Leadership?
I think part of the problem is communication and advertising style. Students are bombarded with e-mails, fliers, announcements, and other forms of passive programming. RAs spend hours working on Bulletin Boards that many people don’t read except in passing. I don’t have any research to support me on this, but an informal observation is that men simply do not read e-mail or fliers with the same level of detail that women due, or in the same time frame. If a student gets an e-mail advertising an activity, it probably gets put in the “read later” queue, and never gets read (or by the time it does, it’s too late). My solution? Actual recruitment.
Go door to door and advertise. Hand out pamphlets and talk about programs as they are occurring. Isn’t this what happened in the days before e-mail? Men have a shorter attention span that is not going to be engaged by e-mail. I would have never joined RHA (and likely never become an RA) were it not for an RA knocking on my door telling me that this is something that I would be interested in, that I might enjoy. The response from the crowd — why is it necessarily for this level of hand-holding? I think it’s more complicated than that.
In the current social structure, men and women learn differently and communicate differently. Whether this is innately biological or socially constructed could be the topic of a dissertation in gender studies, but for now this is the reality. I think we need to use that to our advantage in engaging men. I find that door knocks are more likely to get guys to come to my programs but more likely to annoy female students who would prefer it in an e-mail. Likewise, females better-attend passively advertised programs than do men. This is obviously a sweeping generalization, but in my recent experience it seems to hold true.
So saving the conversation around the gender roles for another day, I think it’s important to operate within the current paradigm, even if the goal is to educate in such a way that will change that paradigm. After all, it’s hard to teach them if they won’t show up.