There and Back Again: Working with Men in Study Abroad

The Insights newsletter highlights innovative programing with ACCENT. This excerpt comes from our May 2015 issue and was written by Michigan State University’s James M. Lucas, Ph.D. For more Insights, visit our newsletter archives at: Accent Insights

MSUM1As a man working in higher education, I have followed the scholarship of male engagement for many years. Male students participate in study abroad at about half the rate as females, and this gap exists in other areas: men are less likely to attend and graduate from college; participate in service, hold leadership positions, and belong to a living-learning program. Conversely, men are more likely to dropout, not attend class, and get into trouble with the university’s conduct system.

My dissertation explored male study abroad participation and suggested that gender role norms play a role in how young men perceive study abroad. Many males view study abroad as frivolous and not as important as part-time work or an internship. Since completing my research, I have tried to connect my findings to practice both as an administrator and program leader. During an effort to reach out to the fraternity community, I found an eager group of young partners in Michigan State University’s (MSU) Chapter of Sigma Epsilon Phi (SigEp). Not only did these students want to discuss study abroad, but they wanted to create a program for fraternity men at the university.

For the pilot program, I worked with the students to design the course outline, and with ACCENT to organize the travel component during the MSU spring break. Prior to and post-travel, the students attended class and discussed the concept of gender, different opinions about gender differences, gender role conflict, and the influence of gender on males in college, with a comparative perspective to Italy. This program also focused on leadership, connecting this topic with the fraternal context – both historically and in the present.MSUM2

The collaboration between MSU, SigEp, and ACCENT represented the first for-credit study program that was co-created with undergraduate students at MSU. The program would never have occurred without the buy-in and support from a group of fraternity men willing to champion the effort. Similarly, the ACCENT Rome and Florence teams helped find guest lecturers and tours able to connect our unique topic to the fabric of these cities. The local faculty proved to be wonderful partners. They adapted their scholarship to the theme of gender, and put a lot of effort into making topics like Renaissance art and Roman archeology engaging for a group that was mostly business and engineering students.

Since our return, the students have reported seeing the world differently, having realized that not everyone thinks, acts, and lives like them. They speak of a newfound understanding that even small everyday things, such as a statue or the straightness of a road, have meaning. They have made connections between history and modern culture, noting how the past can influence who we are as a people. The excitement from this learning has come back to campus, and I can only describe our classes post-travel as “transformed” in terms of their interaction and engagement.

My colleagues thought I was a bit crazy for taking this group overseas. Many would say that there would be too many disciplinary problems, or even question why men would need a men’s studies course. My answer is that this group needs the experience. As educators, we too often assume that men’s social entitlements mean that they do not have special needs. They do. Men need to be thought of as gendered, and they need help understanding their gendered lives and their privileges. Only by educating them can we get them to own their entitlements and help build societies that are socially just.