The vast majority of the college men I encounter are good and decent guys who can simultaneously represent the negative extreme. They make good grades, they are involved on campus, and they are scholars in their field. But these same guys also let loose by drinking in excess, hooking up, engaging in risky behavior, and playing video games for hours on end.
They live dual lives—their academic life and their social life. They live dual masculinities—the harder more destructive masculinity they perform to gain respect and admiration from their peers and the healthier more self-aware masculinity that they may exhibit only with friends, family or during times of crisis. I have even heard some refer to this behavioral dichotomy as “balance.” I cringe at that.
Today’s college man is coming of age in an era with competing road maps, blurry blue prints, and past-tense primers to educate him on what a man is or how to become one. As a result, millennial men often struggle to find balance as they navigate the college environment and all their new-found responsibility and freedom. Volunteers, alumni, fathers and brothers have an obligation to offer a clearer roadmap for our current and future brothers that enables them to graduate and become balanced men. Let’s look at some characteristics of our college men today and how we are serving them.
Academic struggles that plague some males in high school are often compounded once they get to college. Also, many men who excel in high school can have more difficulty than their female counterparts adjusting to college. Researchers have found that college men study less, are more likely to miss class, come unprepared, and did not complete their homework or turn it in late. They also note that women now earn the overwhelming majority of campus academic honors and achieve higher scores on standardized tests than their male counterparts.
Men are more likely than women to get suspended for bad grades and to leave school before they graduate.
The Balanced Man Program’s strong emphasis on academics and balance can also serve to counteract the crisis among college men. Chapters that operate the BMP properly provide a structured support system with multi-level mentoring, programming geared toward acclimation to college, and progressive development opportunities.
SigEp introduced the Residential Learning Community concept in order to help change the culture of our chapters and emphasize true balance and elevate academics to the top priority. Our RLC chapters have the highest academic performance in the Fraternity because of that culture of excellence.
The millennial male was raised by a parent distinctive from past generations. This “helicopter parent” is highly involved in every aspect of their son’s life from helping with class selection and majors to making sure he is up for class each morning. But this comes at a price. These students have trouble coping with the demands of life. The more their parents are involved in schoolwork and selection of college majors, the less satisfied their kids feel with their college lives.
SigEp chapters can provide committed peers, live-in mentors and multiple advisors who guide men in discovering their own path, which also involves mistakes, failures and regrets.
The college social scene, complete with large parties and underage drinking, hasn’t changed much in a generation. Risky and dangerous behaviors and activities accompany men’s drinking. Research has found that fraternity men experience many more problems as a consequence of their drinking compared to non-fraternity men, including: hangovers, behavior they regret, missing class, falling behind in school work, arguing with friends, engaging in unplanned sexual activity and damaging property.
Strong chapters and Residential Learning Communities provide a more balanced living environment. SigEp has one of the lowest levels of risk among fraternities in the country according to our insurance carrier. A great deal of that comes from our chapter leaders knowing how to focus on safe environments. We need to “keep the social in social fraternity.” However, we need to understand that social doesn’t mean a raging party. It means social in its most basic form: interaction that establishes connections and relationships.
New research shows that the millennial male is at increased risk because he doesn’t take healthful action on his own behalf. These include healthy eating, self-examinations for cancer; and safe measures related to driving, sleep and exercise. College men’s self-reliance and denial of pain can deter them from asking for help when they need it.
A committed core of close friends can be the key to a college male acknowledging when he can’t overcome something on his own. SigEp’s emphasis on a sound body helps elevate consciousness about health and fitness. SigEp challenges brothers to see a sound body as not just working out, but rather a more balanced and holistic philosophy of physical well-being: eating healthy, drinking responsibly, not taking drugs, obtaining proper medical care and pursuing fitness.
Thomas Jelke, Ph.D., Florida International ’90, also contributed to this article. McKee is director of student involvement and leadership at Transylvania University. Jelke is a member of SigEp’s National Board of Directors and a higher education consultant.