Title IX enforcers need to fix the toxic environment they have created for men.
The academic year is coming to a close, which means the academic summer is getting ready to start. People at universities do all sorts of things in the summer: Teach summer school, work on research and writing, travel and, these days, attend “diversity workshops.”
These workshops are advertised as teaching faculty and staff how to treat members of all racial and sexual groups with respect so as to maintain an inclusive and civil environment. They tell people what kinds of language to avoid because members of some groups might find it offensive, and they teach the importance of avoiding implicit biases and stereotyping in dealing with members of all groups.
It seems, however, that there’s often a gap in a lot of this training. So I’m going to list a few offensive words and phrases that should be avoided in the interest of fairness, and some common stereotypes that should not inform faculty and staff’s decision-making and interaction with students. So let’s get started:
“Toxic masculinity.” As Toni Airaksinen has noted, this is a common and destructive concept on campus: “On college campuses across the globe, young men are treated to lectures, workshops and extracurricular activities that teach them their masculinity — an element at the very core of their identity — is dangerous, poisonous and even toxic.”
One of the goals of Title IX is to ensure that no student must endure a hostile educational environment based on sex discrimination. It’s hard to imagine a more hostile educational environment than one that characterizes the gender identity of a large number of students as poisonous. Can students comfortably learn and interact with faculty and staff at an institution that sees their gender identity as toxic? It’s hard to see how that’s possible.
Likewise, references to “testosterone poisoning” should be avoided. This variant on “toxic masculinity” identifies a particular hormone (stereotypically identified with men, though in fact women produce testosterone too, and suffer problems if it’s too low) as poisonous. Again, this is simply a statement of naked gender prejudice whose expression is likely to make students who identify as male feel uncomfortable, unappreciated, and stigmatized. In addition, of course, those students who are transitioning from female to male require regular injections of testosterone to maintain their new gender identity. The term “testosterone poisoning” might make them feel that they are going to their physicians to be injected with poison. This sort of hormone-shaming is not okay.
“Frat boy.” As historians of discrimination know, the term “boy” was used to diminish African-American males during the Jim Crow era. Applying it to members of fraternities — who may, after all, be of any race — is a similar effort to diminish. It is offensive and deeply insensitive to the Greek campus community and should be avoided.
Rape-gendering. It’s racist to pretend that African Americans commit the majority of rapes in America. In the Jim Crow era, exaggerated fears of rape were pinned on black men as a way of perpetuating white privilege.
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Likewise, it’s sexist — and in light of data from the Centers for Disease Control showing rough equality here, it’s scientifically inaccurate — to pretend that sexual coercion on campus is strictly, or even largely, a male-on-female phenomenon. Discussions of sexual assault that assume a male perpetrator and a female victim, or the use of phrases like “Teach men not to rape,” constitute the gendering of a crime that is in fact committed by people of all genders. That is not okay.
“Bro.” This is a disrespectful term used to stereotype young males as stupid and superficial. It should be avoided. It is also inappropriate as a form of one-on-one address to male students, unless you are actually their brother.
I hope that members of university communities nationwide will take this advice to heart. Male enrollment in colleges has been falling for some time now, with male students now a distinct minority in higher education nationwide, which suggests that colleges and universities have already created a hostile educational environment for male students. Perhaps Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the federal Department of Education will look into that, but in the meantime, it’s imperative that campuses do their best to be a more welcoming environment for everyone.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.