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This spring, for the first time, California Lutheran University will offer a course called "The Philosophy of Becoming a Man," a sort of guide to being a responsible, compassionate male in today's society.
With the class, the Thousand Oaks university joins an emerging trend among universities nationwide to offer men's studies courses, along with long-established classes on women's history and literature.
"We want to unpack the myth that all men are a certain way, just as the women's movement has tried to do for women," said Mark Justad, president of the American Men's Studies Association. "I'd say interest is bumping along. Is it a trend? Yes, if a trend can be a small trend, I think so."
Nationwide, 10 universities grant doctorates in women's and gender studies, Justad said. Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, N.Y., offers a minor in men's studies. Schools such as Vanderbilt University are starting to offer courses along the lines of "Gender Dynamics in the Hebrew Bible."
Other courses are less strictly academic. Next semester, Pepperdine University in Malibu will offer a six-week course on "Real Men, Reel Relationships," which will use TV and movies as a jumping-off point to talk about masculinity. For a couple of years, the campus also has offered a course on "Authentic Masculinity," which regularly has a waiting list.
"When guys are given the opportunity to sit down and engage in meaningful discussion, they really enjoy that," said Robert Scholz, a staff member in Pepperdine's counseling center. "We're moving into ground that has not been explored as much, especially on a college campus."
The trend is fueled by growing awareness of issues facing boys and men at home, school and work. On college campuses, for example, young women outnumber men, sometimes by a ratio of 55 percent to 45 percent. Men are joining groups like Promise Keepers, a Christian movement that encourages them to take responsibility in their families and communities.
"We're creating a culture where boys and men can be free to express themselves more openly," Justad said. "Who they are as humans is the goal of this."
The class at CLU, which will be offered through the philosophy department, is the brainchild of senior Chris Kajtor, who took a similar course when he was a student at Crespi Carmelite High School, a Catholic boys' school in Encino.
That class, Kajtor said, changed his perception of what it means to be a male in today's world. Manhood, he said, is not all about sports, girls, beer and gadgets — the stereotypes perpetuated on TV and in men's magazines. But that's the image many men buy into, and that's why this class is needed — to help men understand their place in today's society, he said.
"It helped me realize that becoming a man means accepting responsibility, emphasizing relationships and having a cause bigger than yourself," he said. "Society says you become a man when you get your driver's license or when you turn 18 or 21. But it's not that. It's a choice you make."
The class will be taught by Mike De Martini, who also taught the Crespi class. De Martini started the class at Crespi after going through what he described as a midlife crisis, then coming to realize the harm men that do to themselves and others when they don't understand what it means to be male, he said. Now he wants to pass that wisdom on to other men.
"I understood what it means to give to others, to nurture and to mentor," De Martini said. "Those are masculine values, too."
But not everyone believes that men need classes devoted to masculinity when, despite attempts at diversity, white males still dominate most literature and history classes.
Kajtor has been pushing for a men's studies class at CLU since he was a freshman. But he met some resistance along the way, which is not unusual, said Brother Alex Tuss, a board member for the American Men's Studies Association.
"There are questions raised: ‘Why would we need to do this?' " Tuss said. "But we don't need to be in competition. ... We're not attempting to create the college equivalent of the old fort with the sign outside saying, ‘No Girls Allowed.' "
De Martini agrees.
"I understand fully women's issues," he said. "They're wondering, ‘Why do men need classes when they have all the power?' But they're screwing everything up. ... My goal is the same as every woman's goal — that you end negative male behavior."
That make sense to Tessa Carletta, a CLU student. Men need to study and understand their place in society just as much as women do, she said.
"As a woman, we have so many classes geared toward us," she said. "But there aren't many about being a man and the problems they face."