Positioning Privileged White Men in Social Justice: Exploring Barriers and Strategies for Privileged White Men and Those who Work with Them


Positioning Privileged White Men in Social Justice: Exploring Barriers and Strategies for Privileged White Men and Those who Work with Them

Kyle C. Ashlee
Aeriel A. Ashlee
Miami University of Ohio

In recognition of the recent 30th anniversary of the Standing Committee on Men & Masculinities (SCMM), the SCMM has launched a series exploring the concept of intersectionality as it relates to collegiate men.  Contributing authors will explore how dimensions of race, religion, gender, and other social identities converge and shape the experiences of college men and how higher education professionals can best assist these students. 

Introduction and Overview

With increasingly diverse college student populations, exploring intersections of identity has become a central programmatic and developmental focal point within student affairs in higher education. Often this means educators pay particular attention to student communities who experience multiple points of marginalization. In this article, the authors assert that exploring intersectionality for those with privileged and dominant identities is also necessary to engage in transformative social justice work.

Consider the intersectionality of three privileged identities, heterosexual, cisgender, white men. This demographic has access to more institutional power and privilege than many other intersectional identity groups (McIntosh, 2003). While these advantages are inherently problematic, they also provide this college student population with unique opportunities to significantly impact systems of oppression. For the duration of this article, the authors will refer to this demographic, acknowledging their multiple points of privilege, as “privileged white men.” This thought piece will highlight helpful strategies and approaches for privileged white men looking to become more effective social justice advocates. Specifically, this article will:

  • Examine the six stages of Bishop’s Ally Development Model (2002)
  • Identify challenges and barriers of engaging privileged white men in social justice work
  • Explore strategies for privileged white men and those who work with them in navigating challenges and barriers to social justice work

The social identities of the authors for this piece are important to consider in terms of positionality and potential bias in perspective. Kyle Ashlee identifies as a white, cisgender, heterosexual man. These identities afford him numerous unearned privileges. As a result, he believes it is his responsibility to do his own work around power, privilege and oppression in addition to engaging other folks with privileged identities in social justice work. Aeriel A. Ashlee identifies as a heterosexual, cisgender, transracial adoptee, womxn of color. These identities in conjunction with her marriage to Kyle, make the topic of this article particularly relevant for her both personally and professionally. Additionally, Kyle and Aeriel both identify as mid-level professionals, highly educated, and temporarily able-bodied. They are positioned in a way that may influence their ability to understand the lived experiences of identity communities to which they do not belong.

Before delving into the core tenets of this article, a few acknowledgements are worth noting. First, this article will focus specifically on race and gender as two acute social identities. While identity is extremely complex and all dimensions influence each other (Jones & McEwen, 2000), the authors have chosen to focus the scope of this article on the intersection of race and gender. Second, some of the language used in this piece, such as “men,” “male,” and “masculinity,” is limited in its false characterization of gender as a binary. The word choice used in this article is intended to reflect the dominant/subordinate power dynamics of our patriarchal society. Lastly, the discussion is framed in a pro-feminist and male-positive lens, calling the dominant group (i.e., heterosexual cisgender, white men) to action in social justice work.

Bishop’s Ally Development Theory

Anne Bishop’s 2002 framework for understanding the development of social justice allies, which she outlines in her book Becoming An Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People, combines both cognitive and behavioral components. Originally written about interracial social justice allies in particular, Bishop contextualizes power and privilege more broadly and thus the authors of this article have applied the model to the engagement of privileged white men as social justice allies. At the core of Bishop’s approach to allyship is the understanding that allies recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society and take responsibility for changing these patterns.

According to Bishop (2002), ally development begins with understanding oppression; how it began, how it is maintained, and how its cyclical nature entraps individuals and institutions. The second step involved in becoming an ally is to recognize and understand the interactions among oppressions. Bishop (2002) compares oppression to an interconnecting web, each strand reinforcing one another. She calls upon allies to recognize the similarities among oppressed groups and to collectively confront oppression, thereby rejecting the notion that there is a hierarchy of oppression. Step three of Bishop’s (2002) model acknowledges the pain that accompanies an increased understanding of one’s role in the cycle of oppression. In this step, Bishop (2002) conveys that healing this pain is essential to breaking the cycle and to growing as a social justice ally.

Bishop (2002) makes the political personal by calling upon allies to become workers for their own liberation. Bishop (2002) requires allies to examine their previous role within cycles of oppression as a way to learn new skills in dismantling oppression. This fifth step encourages allies to focus on listening to and supporting others rather than leading or co-opting the movement of a oppressed group. Bishop (2002) directs allies to center their work within the dominant group(s) to which they belong, educating their dominant group peers. The sixth and final step to Bishop’s (2002) ally development model emphasizes the importance of maintaining hope while working for social change. Bishop (2002) asserts that being an active social justice ally can be difficult and encourages allies to remember that a social movement is a long-term journey. Therefore, they must hold onto the sincere belief that what has been learned (i.e., racism, sexism, homophobia) can also be unlearned.

Challenges of Allyship

The concept of allyship is complex and requires both intentionality and reflection for privileged white men. Bishop’s (2002) Ally Development model demonstrates that allyship is a process of awareness, healing, and action. This process is not always seamless and many challenges come along with the development of privileged white men as effective social justice allies.

Even the most well-intended allies can sometimes cause unintentional harm. In his work, Keith Edwards (2006) discusses the contentious tug-of-war between intentions and impacts of ally behavior. Edwards (2006) notes that:

[F]or those who are the direct targets of oppression, underlying motivations may

appear to be irrelevant; only the outcome of the behavior matters… as educators seeking to be effective allies and to develop effective ally behavior in others, understanding underlying motivations can be a tool to develop more consistently effective ally behavior. (p. 53)

In other words, effective allyship must consider both intent and impact of anti-oppressive behavior.

Another consideration for effective allyship is the notion of ally as a labeled identity. While identification is important, both for allies and for those with whom they are working, the title of “ally” can sometimes lead to a problematic sense of accomplishment or enlightenment for the person of privilege. Instead, effective allies must constantly strive toward a better understanding of their own privilege and how their identities impact others. Allyship should be viewed as a verb rather than a noun, determined by action and commitment. For privileged white men doing social justice work, mistakes will be made in their ally development and that behavior may not be congruent with allyship. Therefore, for the purpose of this article, the authors call upon Brod, Terhaar, Thao, Laker, & Voth (2005) who indicated that the most reliable and authentic naming of social justice allies is done by members of the oppressed groups.

Finally, allyship for privileged white men is complicated by the uncertainty of when and how to show up within a social justice movement. While allies have their place in working toward social justice, they should not be the ones leading the way. Much of the work necessary to make positive social change requires people from dominant identity groups to do their own work in understanding systems of power and privilege. This includes amplifying the voices of those who are marginalized and disrupting oppressive behavior in spaces occupied solely by those with dominant identities. However, it is imperative that allyship be informed by those experiencing oppression so as not to co-opt their efforts. If allies do not collaborate with and listen to those from marginalized communities, their work runs the risk of reinforcing systems of oppression and perpetuating harm.

Barriers for Privileged White Men

Privileged white men can experience significant barriers that impede their development as effective social justice allies. From his professional work with men’s programming as well as his own lived experiences, Kyle believes that many of these barriers result from personal fears and insecurities about making mistakes and the personal shame associated with being held responsible for these learning moments in allyship. Fear and shame can be strong motivators for action (Brown, 2012), and these feelings can be enough to deter many aspiring allies from social justice work altogether.

Specifically, the barriers for many privileged white men in doing social justice work include silence and pluralistic ignorance. In traditional hegemonic masculinity, men are taught to be silent and fiercely independent (Kimmel, 2009). This means that many men struggle with expressing their authentic feelings for fear that they will be judged and criticized by other men. Men’s socialized silence can create a barrier in challenging others around oppressive language and behavior. Additionally, some men believe they are alone in their efforts toward social justice. Research around the concept of pluralistic ignorance illustrates that college men often believe more men participate in harmful behavior (i.e. high-risk drinking, victim blaming, sexism, homophobia) than really do (Berkowitz, 2011).

Strategies for Working With Privileged White Men

While fear and insecurity can significantly deter some privileged white men from becoming effective social justice allies, Kyle believes there are strategies which can help these men work through these feelings, feelings that can lead to inaction. From his professional experience advising and mentoring college men at multiple colleges and universities, Kyle has found that the challenges and barriers for those with dominant identities doing social justice work may never be resolved completely, but having skills to navigate them can be paramount in maintaining resiliency in effective ally development.

Engaging in continued self-work is one of the most effective ways for privileged white men to overcome the challenges and barriers in doing social justice work. Self-work is the process of understanding one’s own privileged identities and identifying personal attitudes and behaviors that reinforce cycles of oppression (Ashlee & Ashlee, 2016). Self-work requires aspiring allies to be vulnerable about their own biases and areas for growth. In doing so, privileged white men can develop their capacity to be authentic and experience empathy with those who experience oppression.

In addition to self-work, allies can develop their social justice competency by conducting their own independent research. Many times allies depend on those from marginalized communities to help them understand why a specific behavior is problematic or oppressive. This unfairly places the responsibility on those who are the target of oppression. Instead, those with dominant identities must do their own work in understanding systems of privilege and oppression rather than relying on the target group to teach them. One way that privileged white men can do this independent learning is to read current social justice literature. An accessible introduction to the topic of social justice and allyship is VITAL: A Torch For Your Social Justice Journey (Ashlee & Ashlee, 2016). Additionally, a vast library of books on social justice and identity can be found on the suggested readings page of the Social Justice Training Institute.

Privileged white men can also become more effective social justice allies by building their skills for intervention. Overcoming the fear that many men feel from their socialization of hegemonic masculinity takes patience and practice. An increasing number of active bystander intervention training programs have been developed across the country and are being successfully implemented with college and university students (Banyard et al., 2007). These programs approach men from the perspective that they can be an active part of the solution and allow college men the opportunity to develop their skills of intervention with other men. Not only does this process increase their effectiveness, it deconstructs their pluralistic ignorance by revealing and normalizing other men who are willing to stand up against oppressive behavior.

Lastly, privileged white men can work through the challenges and barriers to doing social justice work by engaging in dialogue. There are two types of dialogue – intragroup and intergroup – and both are important in developing effective social justice allies. Intragroup dialogue includes creating spaces for members of dominant identity groups to be authentic and vulnerable with each other as they explore their own privilege and biased behavior. This type of caucusing develops awareness around one’s own identity and contributes to social norming around positive group attitudes and behaviors in social justice work. Conversely, privileged white men can also participate in intergroup dialogue, or shared spaces among dominant and targeted communities, as a way to develop understanding and empathy across difference. Bearing witness to the lived experiences of others through intergroup dialogue can encourage privileged white men to reflect on the impact of systemic structures of oppression in a space uniquely safe space.

Barriers for Those Working with Privileged White Men

Similar to the importance of identifying barriers for privileged white men to show up as social justice allies, it is equally important to identify barriers for those working with aspiring social justice allies. Drawing upon her own experience as a social justice educator, co-author Aeriel Ashlee identifies three barriers to working with privileged white men in social justice work.

First, confronting individual microaggressions and navigating systemic macroaggressions on a daily basis is exhausting. Even the most well-intended ally has the privilege of “turning on or off” their social justice lens, whereas for those with targeted identities (i.e., people of color, women/trans-people) showing up to a patriarchal work environment every day or living in a racially segregating neighborhood, is not a choice one can opt in or out of.

Second, challenging and supporting those with dominant identities in their social justice journeying should not be a responsibility that falls to those who have systematically been oppressed. Existing in an oppressive society is taxing enough, the burden to “educate” dominant groups about their privilege should not fall solely on those historically marginalized. When people with targeted identities are busy taking caring of those with privilege (i.e., a woman of color holding a white woman’s hand as she cries about her white guilt), the voice and energy of the targeted identities is redirected to support the dominant narrative.

A third barrier for those working with privileged white men in social justice work is the fear of being perceived or portrayed as the “angry one.” Without a doubt confronting and owning one’s role in systems of oppression can be uncomfortable work. Unfortunately, sometimes while working through their own privilege, aspiring allies from dominant social identity groups inappropriately project their discomfort to others. For example, when a woman of color articulates her frustrations with institutional racism and is minimized with a comment about going on yet another “angry black woman rant.” The fear of this unjust characterization and trivialization may be a barrier for some folks working with privileged white men.

Strategies for Those Working with Privileged White Men

In light of these barriers to working with privileged white men as social justice allies, it is necessary to the health, wellness, and retention of those working with this dominant group to also identify strategies for working through these barriers. Again, drawing from her own experiences as a social justice educator and partner to a heterosexual white man, co-author Aeriel Ashlee shares five strategies for working with privileged white men in social justice work.

First and foremost is self-care. Dismantling oppressive systems can be arduous work. Giving oneself permission to put down the banner as needed is necessary to one’s longevity as a social justice advocate/educator.

A second and related strategy to self-care is setting boundaries. While engaging allies is important to social justice work, this should not come at the expense of one’s own wellness. It is okay, appropriate, and even sometimes necessary to say “look it up, yourself” – allowing allies to do their own work, rather than shouldering the unrealistic expectation of always being the teacher (with patience, answers, etc.).

In addition to self-care, it is important for those working with privileged white men to remember to be graceful, towards others and ourselves. A challenge with learning edges is that sometimes they cut. Whenever possible, it is best to assume good intent of aspiring allies with dominant identities. Similarly, it is important to have compassion and kindness toward oneself when working with privileged white men. Triggers are an inevitability of tackling issues of power, privilege, and oppression. It is important to acknowledge that triggers can be a reflection of our own work in addition to external conflict with others. These triggers should be respected for their authentic indication of feelings and attuned to with care. It is more important to show up authentically than perfectly.

The fourth and fifth strategies for navigating barriers to working with privileged white men are interrelated. Create and cultivate intragroup dialogue spaces, finding support and solidarity with others who are also working with dominant group(s) to vent, process, problem solve, and find hope. Relatedly, engaging in dialogue across difference, intergroup dialogue, is important for those working with privileged white men as this provides a space to build empathetic relationships, and to create opportunities to share, learn and practice vulnerability around issues of power, privilege, and oppression.


Whether you identify as a privileged white man or someone working with this population in social justice work, the authors of this article hope that this discussion has been useful. This brief reading can be shared with colleagues and networks of support, as a meaningful way to engage in important intra and inter-group conversations about working with privileged White men in social justice work.

Discussion Questions

  1. What barriers have you experienced as a privileged white man doing social justice work?
  2. What barriers have you experienced with privileged white men doing social justice work?
  3. What strategies have you used to navigate these barriers?


Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & McEwen, M. K. (2007). Reconceptualizing the model of multiple dimensions of identity: The role of meaning-making capacity in the construction of multiple identities. Journal of College Student Development, 48, 1-22.

Ashlee, K. C. & Ashlee, A. A. (2016). VITAL: A torch for your social justice journey. Cincinnati, OH: Brave Space Publishing.

Banyard, V. L., Moynihan, M. M., & Plante, E. G. (2007). Sexual violence prevention through bystander education: An experimental evaluation. Journal of Community Psychology. 35.463-481. doi:10.1002/jcop.20159

Berkowitz, A. D. (2011). Using how college men feel about being men and “doing the right thing” to promote men’s development. New York and London: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.

Bishop, A. (2002). Becoming an ally: Breaking the cycle of oppression in people (2nd ed.). Halifax, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing.

Brod, H., Terhaar, J., Thao, M., Laker, J., & Voth, J. L. (2005, March). Effective strategies for engaging allies: Explaining water to fish. Pre-conference program presented at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators National Conference, Tampa, FL.

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books.

Edwards, K. (2006). Aspiring social justice ally identity development: A conceptual model. NASPA Journal, 43, 39-60.

Kimmel, M. (2009). Guyland: The perilous world where boys become men. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

McIntosh, P. (2003). White privilege and male privilege. In M. Kimmel & A. L. Ferber (Eds.), Privilege: A reader  (pp. 3–25). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

About the Authors

Kyle Ashlee and Aeriel A. Ashlee are doctoral students in the Student Affairs in Higher Education (SAHE) program at Miami University. The Ashlees are co-authors of VITAL: A Torch For Your Social Justice Journey and co-founders of Ashlee Consulting LLC. The firm focuses on building inclusive communities that value diversity and social justice through facilitator training, inspirational story sharing, and dialogue program development.

Please e-mail inquiries to Kyle Ashlee or Aeriel A. Ashlee


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Providing Spaces on College Campuses and through Social Media for Men of Color to Offer Counterstories

Cameron C. Beatty, Iowa State University
Cristobal Salinas Jr., Florida Atlantic University

In recognition of the recent 30th anniversary of the Standing Committee on Men & Masculinities (SCMM), the SCMM has launched a series exploring the concept of intersectionality as it relates to collegiate men.  Contributing authors will explore how dimensions of race, religion, gender, and other social identities converge and shape the experiences of college men and how higher education professionals can best assist these students. 

Counterstorytelling and history can be useful to understand the historical and political context of power, privilege and the oppression of historically marginalized communities in the United States (Zinn, 1994).  Similar to counterstorytelling and history, social media has become an important source of news that influences the examination of society and culture, and its interaction of race, law, power and privilege.  If one was born yesterday, with no knowledge of the past, one might simply accept anything and everything that social media tells us.  “Knowing a bit of history—while it would not absolutely prove the government [and media] were lying in a given instance—might make you skeptical, lead you to ask questions, make it more likely that you would find out the truth” (Zinn, 1994, p. 174). This truth is very much rooted in the lived experiences of our daily lives.

Through this essay we intend to shed light on how men of color have been some of the primary victims of negative social imagery and how the fragments of these constructions continue to have contemporary influences on our college campuses. This is particularly true when it comes to the fearing of men of color, and specifically, Black and Brown bodies in our society. It is the hope that this essay disrupts the current discourse and allows for student affairs professionals to provide a unique counterstorytelling space on their campuses for men of color to disrupt this current dominant discourse in society. Furthermore, it is vital for us as educators to play an important role in creating useful research, theory, and practices in order to work towards emancipation. By doing this we will help to improve the higher education experiences and educational outcomes for men of color, who consistently find themselves reported at the bottom of most academic indicators (Howard, 2008; Howard & Flennaugh, 2011; Hutchison, 1994; McGuire, Berhanu, Davis III, & Harper, 2014).

We operate from the position that large numbers of men of color experience education in a manner unlike other students in the United States and that these experiences are rooted in a historical construction of what it means to be Black/Brown and gender identify as men. These experiences, we assert, are often guided by an account/illusion that is a less than flattering account of the academic potential, intellectual disposition, and social and cultural capital possessed by Black and Brown males (Hutchison, 1994; McGuire, Berhanu, Davis III, & Harper, 2014).  Moreover, our contention is that not only do these notions of men of color shape their schooling experiences, but may severely influence their life chances at a time where educational access is vital to competing in an increasingly global society. This consequence is most disturbing given the manner in which disproportionate numbers of men of color continue to find themselves socially, economically, and politically marginalized from the American majority (Hutchison, 1994; McGuire et al., 2014; Noguera, Hurtado, & Fergus, 2011).



The Opportunity Agenda (2011) and the National Hispanic Media Coalition (Barreto, Manzano, & Segura, 2012) report that media messages and images have a greater impact on negative perceptions and stereotypes when individuals have real-world knowledge and understanding in topics of power, privilege and oppression. For example, individuals who are subject to positive information about men of color are more likely to report fewer negative stereotypical beliefs; individuals exposed to negative information about these men hold negative stereotypes no matter the focus; and exposure to only one negative prompt predicts higher rates of negative Black and stereotyping in terms of criminal activity, unemployment, poverty, lack of education, and impressions of Brown men being undocumented.

Noguera (2008) shared that Black and Brown men “are anything but invisible or unseen” (p. xii).  Media such as TV shows, magazine advertising, the Internet, video games, and news broadcasts constantly represent Black and Brown men negatively and—at limited times—positively.  While Black and Brown men are often represented as criminals (“thugs” and “cholos”), unemployed, and poor, they are also constantly idolized and represented in the media as gifted athletes, good dancers, and instantly “cool” (Patterson, Lane, Stephens, McElderry, & Alleyne, 2014; The Opportunity Agenda, 2011; Noguera, 2008).  The reality is that the majority of Black and Brown men are not athletes or performers; neither are they criminals or gangsters.

Most recently, since the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis cases, scholars and policymakers have focused on a national debate and given attention to the number of issues and challenges faced by Black and Brown men.  For example, as a result of Martin’s and Davis’s deaths, there have been several media outlets that engage in dialogue surrounding the discrimination of clothing and music as a sign of deviance (Patterson, Lane, Stephens, McElderry, & Alleyne, 2014).  President Obama and his administration launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative (2014) to create and build opportunities for boys and young men of color. Yet, institutions and policy-makers have not figured out a way to approach the challenges that men of color face. Every year, men of color make the news, mainly because they continue to be victims of racial profiling and hate crimes; they also are negatively stereotyped, oppressed, and marginalized. On the other hand men who hold these identities are idolized by society and the media as sports heroes or gods in the entertainment industry. We engage in this analysis of men of color’s representation in schools and society with a full recognition that regardless of the mass of obstacles and challenges that have confronted men of color in the United States historically and contemporarily, there are instances of exceptional men of color who have overcome these obstacles and thrived on college campuses. In addition, there are a large number of men of color who occupy prominent professional positions in their respective communities.

Fearing of Men of Color

The overall representation of men of color in the media is incomplete, misleading, and irresponsible in various ways.  Black and Brown males are portrayed by the media as criminals, violent, uneducated, and unkempt (Wilson, 2014; Mazyck, 2014).  Even though Black and Brown men have visible roles that can be considered positive, such as athletes and performers (dancers, singers, composers, and comedians), they tend to be absent from some critical types of roles, such as parenting portrayals (The Opportunity Agenda, 2011).

Media promote how men of color are negatively perceived and stereotyped, however, this does not reflect the lived experiences of a majority of these men.  Our call for counterstroytelling aims to raise the critical consciousness regarding social and racial injustices that men of color experience. Counterstorytelling serves as an analytical tool for examining stories and is prevalent in research using critical race theory. According to Delgado and Stefancic (2001), counterstorytelling “aims to cast doubt on the validity of accepted premises or myths, especially ones held by the majority” (p. 144). Counterstories function to:

  1. build community among marginalized individuals and groups;
  2. challenge claims of knowledge and wisdom of dominant groups;
  3. illuminate alternative realities of those at the margins of society; and
  4. provide context in an effort to transform current systems of belief and value (Delgado, 1989; Delgado & Stefancic, 2001; Solórzano, Ceja & Yosso, 2000).

Through use of counterstorytelling, dominant understandings around the lived experiences of men of color can be addressed through the voices of those Black and Brown men.

As the media continues to negatively stereotype, oppress, and marginalize men of color, we (as educators) must acknowledge that our college campuses are not immune to being oppressive spaces. Recently students who identify as men of color from across the nation are challenging the media by telling their counterstories via those media. In 2013, a group of African-American students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), sent out a powerful message discussing the lack of diversity, in particular the lack of African-American students on campus (Park, 2013).  The video explains the lack of African- Americans at UCLA and highlights African-Americans make up 3.8 percent of the student population. Stokes points out that “black males make up 3.3 percent of the male student population, and that 65 percent of those black males are undergraduate athletes. Of the incoming men in the freshmen class, only 1.9 percent of them were black” (Stokes, 2014).

In 2013, Black male students at Illinois Central High School created a video contradicting the negative image of young African-American males in the media.  They affirmed and highlighted that the successes of young Black males are often ignored and their stories untold; they stated: “We are not gangsters and thugs, we are employees and volunteers, we are scholars, and we are athletes” (Gholson, 2013).

Scholars have used counterstorytelling to highlight the ways men of color make sense of barriers they faced in their quest for academic achievement. Counterstorytelling subsequently highlights the importance of tapping into students’ narratives to understand the internal processes that some men of color go through in order to excel in school. These videos by UCLA and Illinois Central High School men of color positions student voice and agency as immensely important to the way identities are constructed and understood (Hoshmand, 2005). As these videos have demonstrated, developing a social platform that makes use of men of color voices has the potential to advance informed practices that disrupt the status quo when developing programs and resources for men of color on college campuses.

We propose that using social media more intentionally on college campuses to incorporate the voices of marginalized men of color on campus can also help to dismantle the dominant oppressive discourses surrounding race, class, and gender groups. These counterstories represent a challenge to dominant narratives that can represent other truths and lived experiences that directly refute hegemony (Terry, 2011). “Stories told by those on the bottom, told from the ‘subversive-subaltern’ perspective, challenge and expose the hierarchical and patriarchal order that exists within the legal academy [any institution] and pervades the larger society” (Montoya, 1995, p. 537). These stories are critical and allow the anger and pain of the oppressed storyteller to emerge. Hearing people’s own stories is a powerful way of getting oftentimes reluctant teachers, researchers, or policy makers in training to understand that the theories they are learning about have a material effect on individuals. The intersectionality (Collins, 2000; Crenshaw, 1997) of race, class, and gender are fundamentally critical in research, policies, and practices concerning people of color. Each identity in its own way profoundly influences identity construction, social imagery, and meaning-making for men of color. As mentioned earlier, men of color possess multiple identities that are profoundly shaped by race, socioeconomic status, and gender (to name a few) in all of their complex manifestations.

The goal of empowering men of color and recreating their social image through a raised consciousness is not an easy one. Removing the layers of hegemony engraved in the minds is not a simple task. Attempting to shift paradigms is real and there can be a major stumbling block to achieving critical consciousness (Bell, Washington, Weinsteinan, & Love, 2003). Part of this paradigm shift must incorporate the views, ideas, and perspectives of men of color themselves in recreating their own image.

Role of Student Affairs Professionals

Men of color have been some of the primary victims of negative social imagery.  They are often represented as negative stereotype no matter the focus, they are seen as criminals, unemployed, poor, and being “anti-intellectual” (Harper, 2012).  It is important to remember that the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.  For this reason, we believe that counterstorytelling for men of color on college campuses and through social media should be used as a tool to disrupt the dominant discourse of the negative stereotyping in terms of criminal activity, unemployment, poverty, lack of education, and impressions of Brown men being undocumented.

We believe that it is necessary to work with different communities to understand their various layers of privilege and oppression (Salinas & Beatty, 2013). To do this, we recommend educators and student affairs professions to:

  • Educate themselves about their feelings, beliefs, and attitudes around Black and Brown bodies;
  • Create a safe space to discuss beliefs and experiences in order to be challenged and to challenge peers and colleagues about their feelings, beliefs, and attitudes;
  • Engage in reflection, active learning and developing critical thinking about social identities and the intersection of identities;
  • Empower ourselves and other individuals to understand and use cultural values to develop more optimal learning environments for the oppressed communities and recognize where their privilege is constantly at play (p. 28).

Additional recommendations include: creating your own social media video to highlight the experiences of men of color on your campus, providing a #hashtag for students to share their realities with discrimination and disenfranchisement on campus, and finally having a physical space for men of color to discuss their realities with not only their peers, but with key administrators so they feel their voices are being heard, acknowledged, and affirmed.

These recommendations should aid to promote reflection, collaboration, and organizational learning to better serve students and support all communities, but specifically the success of men of color on your campus.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do I know what men of color are experiencing on my campus? Do they find the campus to be welcoming and supportive?
  2. How do we create spaces on campus for men of color to make meaning of their experiences on campus and to discuss with administrators and peers?
  3. What role does social media use have on men of color and their identity development in college?

About the Authors

Cameron C. Beatty, Ph.D., is a lecturer in leadership education and program coordinator for the leadership studies program with the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. He graduated in summer 2014 from Iowa State University with a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration and a Graduate Certificate in Social Justice Education. He earned a master’s degree in Higher Education Student Affairs and a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and African American and African Diaspora Studies, both from Indiana University. His doctoral dissertation focused on exploring the leadership identity development of students of color at a liberal arts college. Beatty’s particular areas of interest include such topics as definitions of masculinity, leadership development for students of color, and racial justice in higher education.

Cristobal Salinas Jr., Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Educational Leadership and Research Methodology Department at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Education. Cristobal previously served as the College of Design’s Multicultural Liaison Officer at Iowa State University, where he provided assistance and guidance in understanding issues of diversity in the college and beyond. He holds a B.A. in Spanish Education and ESL from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education from Iowa State University. His dissertation explored how Latino male faculty members make meaning of their socialization into the academy and how socialization impacts their decisions to pursue full-time and tenure-track positions in the field of education.  His research promotes access and quality in higher education, and explores the social, political, and economic context of education opportunity for historically marginalized communities.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.


Barreto, M. A.,  Manzano, S., & Segura, G. M. (2012, September).  The impact of media stereotypes on opinion and attitudes towards Latinos.  National Hispanic Media Coalition.  Retrieved from: http://www.nhmc.org/sites/default/files/LD%20NHMC%20Poll%20Results%20Sept.2012.pdf

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College Men at the Intersection of Masculinity & Spirituality

In recognition of the recent 30th anniversary of the Standing Committee on Men & Masculinities (SCMM), the SCMM has launched a series exploring the concept of intersectionality as it relates to collegiate men.  Contributing authors will explore how dimensions of race, religion, gender, and other social identities converge and shape the experiences of college men and how higher education professionals can best assist these students. 

Be a man…but also a man of faith and spirituality?  Missing from the contemporary discourse on college men and intersectionality is an analysis of how college men reconcile and make meaning of their gender (masculinity) and faith/spiritual identities.  This gap is most pronounced with male subgroup populations who have faith, self-identify as spiritual and/or religious, and actively participate in faith-based initiatives (e.g. service, retreat, worship) offered by campus ministries, chaplaincies, and parachurch organizations.  Understanding men as spiritual and religious beings not only gives more breadth and depth to research on college men and masculinities but also provides new possibilities for student affairs practitioners to reconstruct gendered norms on campus.

As the UCLA Spiritualty Study suggests, college students are yearning for these questions, yet faculty and administrators are not adequately responding to the demand (Astin, Astin, & Lindholm, 2011).  By broadening the spectrum of masculinities to include intersections of spirituality and religion, student affairs practitioners can enter into a larger conversation with campus ministry/chaplaincy about serving the gender-specific needs, experiences, and challenges of college men of faith.  Moreover, this discourse continues to move the field of men and masculinities beyond deficit-oriented narratives that identify problems of college men, while offering few solutions for practitioners.

Using intersectionality as a theoretical perspective (Collins, 1990; Crenshaw, 1989, 1991), this thought piece aims to complicate and deepen contemporary understandings of college men’s multiple identities by exploring how faith/spiritual identity (along with race, class, sexuality, ability, etc.) intersects with men’s gender identity (masculinity) and how this intersection informs college men’s development.  To achieve this end, I will situate intersectionality theory in college student development literature, drawing upon historical roots and contemporary applications of intersectionality, including the Intersectional Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity (IMMDI) (Jones & Abes, 2013).  In order to integrate intersectionality theory into contemporary discourse on college men, I will use a narrative approach grounded in a recent sociological work on sacred narratives (Ammerman, 2013).  This will provide a language and a framework to contextualize and make meaning of three complex and multifaceted narratives of college men of faith.  I will conclude by connecting theoretical understandings of intersectionality and sacred narratives to student affairs practice, providing implications and discussion questions for reflection-based action.

College Men & Intersectionality

Men and masculinities scholars have long called to dismiss singular, essentialist, and dominant/hegemonic forms of masculinity, which value the time-honored depictions of what it means to be a man, in favor of a plurality of masculinities – aptly termed multiple masculinities (Connell, 2005; Kimmel & Messner, 2003).  While this movement within the field has expanded our understanding of men’s gender identity, men and masculinities scholars have often viewed gender (masculinity) as an independent and discrete identity.  As scholarship has evolved, there has been a growing consensus that researchers and practitioners should attend to more than gender identity developmental models alone to more fully understand the experiential realities of college men (Harper, Wardell, & McGuire, 2011).  Harper and colleagues posit that gender cannot be understood in isolation from other identities such as race, class, sexuality, and religion.  This sentiment echoes earlier work by Jones (1997) that suggests the “braiding of gender” (p. 379) with other identities.  Scholarship on multiple identities has recently been refined to reflect aspects of intersectionality theory, as conceptualized in the Intersectional Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity (IMMDI) (Jones & Abes, 2013).

Historically grounded in the Black feminist and womanist movements (Collins, 1990; Crenshaw, 1989, 1991), intersectionality research has emerged as a distinct, yet overlapping concept with multiple identities.  This concept arose out of Black feminists refusing the ways that white-located feminism consistently attempted to collapse race as a saliently organizing force.  Intersectionality is not simply about the addition of multiple identities, but also the hierarchies of social positioning (Bowleg, 2008; Spade, 2013; Stewart, 2010).  As a critical lens that deconstructs inequality and power structures, intersectionality is inherently connected to social movements.  As Collins (1990) describes, intersectionality is an ongoing “dialectic between oppression and activism” (p. 3); a bottom-up reframing of the issues that shifts limited paradigms of thought from an oversimplification of additive identities to multiple, intersecting axes of privilege and oppression.

Similar to the Black feminist and womanist movements, the field of college men and masculinities has too often taken a single vector approach that universalizes an experience of gender to all men.  This reductionism is potentially harmful, as it can essentialize the experiences of men to dominant identities (e.g. white, male, Christian), while ignoring subpopulations of men who have been historically marginalized and underrepresented in the academy.  Intersectionality theory seeks to transform the larger discourse about college men to include the experiential realities of men who experience multiple privileged and subordinate identities simultaneously.  The next section introduces a narrative approach to college men and intersectionality.

Sacred Narratives of College Men

The sacred narratives of college men provides an opportunity for student affairs practitioners to begin to identify and hold up narratives of college men who are reconciling and successfully integrating their masculinity and spirituality.  Sociologist of religion Nancy Ammerman (2013) explores the power of the sacred narratives in her recent text, Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes: Finding Religion in Everyday Life.  She sought to discover spirituality in the everyday lives of ordinary American Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, unaffiliated, etc., as spiritual identity and religious affiliation cannot be confined to places of worship.

For Ammerman (2013), narrative is an appropriate method of inquiry for “nonexperts” (p. 7) (i.e. majority of college students), where conceptions of God and the world are communicated and passed down generationally through stories and rituals:

Stories are important, in part, because they are not merely personal.  They exist at the intersection of personal and public…We live inside a range of socially constructed stories that are not always of our own making or even fully conscious to us. (p. 8)

When the sacred narratives of college men are made public and shared broadly throughout the academy, it provides a space for all college men to reimagine what it means to be a college man.  By privileging alternative narratives, it broadens the permissive behaviors of men on college campuses to include spiritual identity and religious affiliation in hopes that all college men, particularly those from marginalized subgroups, may enact their masculinity with greater fluidity and acceptance from their male peer groups.

Through my work as an educator, minister, and scholar, I have encountered countless young men who experience many tensions in their gender and spiritual identities.  In most cases, faith, spirituality, and religion encourage these men to reflect, make meaning, provide service to others, and orient their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors towards more relational and communal ends.  From a gendered perspective, these notions are antithetical to dominant, hegemonic notions of masculinity by which boys and men are socialized, such as fear of femininity, restrictive emotionality, homophobia, insubordination, individualism, competition, power, success, domination, and aggression (Connell, 2005; Kimmel & Messner, 2003).  For many men, an outward spirituality is commonly understood as a violation of masculine norms – something to be shamed – relegated to the periphery as a soft and interior pursuit.  Consequently, the holistic development of college men is rendered incomplete.  Examples of this disintegration are evident in the following case study narratives:

  • John had a strong pre-college religious socialization through his family and faith-based high school experiences. Entering college, John becomes preoccupied with belonging to his male peer group, who hold up sexual activity (i.e. losing one’s virginity) as an essential component of college masculinity and the common male folklore.  John experiences deep tensions between his core religious beliefs and his need for validation from other men.  With no conversation partners on campus to talk about both his masculinity and his strong faith background, John feels even more isolated.  Ultimately, John loses his virginity in order to fit in with his male peers, while privatizing and ignoring the central tenets of his religious upbringing. He still struggles to make meaning of this experience three years later as a senior.
  • Michael has always associated his masculinity with “respect” and “aggression.”  Entering college, he demonstrated this through excessive drinking and violent behaviors with his male peer groups.  However, on the inside, he wrestles with coming out to his male peer group – a conversation he was never comfortable having in high school.  Homophobic slurs continue to keep his sexuality silent for his first two years of college.  As a junior, he finally comes out to his peers and, much to his surprise, is accepted and cared for deeply.  This experience allows him to feel less constricted in his masculinity.  Shortly thereafter, he feels open to explore his spiritual identity for the first time, in order to make meaning of these events.
  • Tyler is caught up in the duality of roles – he is both captain of the basketball team and the leader of an international service-immersion trip.  His peer groups are clearly delineated – his basketball peers validate his masculinity through toughness, aggressiveness, and other hypermasculine behavior, while his service-immersion peers are the only people on campus whom he feels he can be honest and open with.  For example, service-learning experiences are considered to be “girly” by his basketball peers.  Tyler tells the story of returning from his service trip, unclear how to process his emotions, and ultimately, getting “blackout” drunk with his basketball peers.  For many years, he struggles to integrate these two male peer groups, which both represent valuable aspects of person he wants to be.  He fully identifies with both peer groups, but lacks an integrative experience without conversations on campus to explore and process this dichotomy.

These narratives, which should not be essentialized to all men of faith, demonstrate some common struggles that men face in integrating their multiple identities in the midst of the larger sociocultural norms.  They each tell the story of fragmentation and situational identity, as they attempt to reconcile what it means to be a man and what it means to be a person of faith.

For John, Michael, and Tyler, faith, spiritual identity and religious affiliation were often understood as a violation of and threat to masculine gender norms, which caused faith-based conversations and participation in faith-based initiatives (e.g. retreat, service, worship) to be privatized and interiorized.  These men were comfortable enough to share their faith with adult mentors, especially those who facilitated faith-based initiatives and conversation groups; however, they deeply struggled in their male peer groups, where their voices and experiences became marginalized and minimized.  As John, Michael, and Tyler sought to develop their faith, they felt more alienated from their peers and more isolated and unsupported in their faith development.  In response to these disconcerting narratives, the next section provides a practical guide for student affairs professionals.

Integration of Sacred Narratives on Campus

As educators, we need to help college men navigate complex and multifaceted experiences of masculinity and spirituality.  Creating a campus culture that allows men to speak openly and honestly about their spiritual identity and their religious affiliation will inevitably broaden the spectrum of masculinities embraced on college campuses.

This can be achieved through a twofold approach.  First, student affairs practitioners need to identify where sacred narratives are already present on college campus.  As Ammerman (2013) asserts, these narratives do not simply exist in our campus worship communities or spiritual programming (e.g. retreat and service experiences), but across various religious and secular contexts in which college men live their lives.  Once identified, these narratives should be promoted throughout our campus communities.  Second, student affairs practitioners need to provide spaces for college men to share their sacred narratives, such as: 1) in the classroom, through spiritual pedagogy (Astin, 2004) such as journaling, reflection, and centering activities; 2) in retreat programming and gender/women’s resource center programming and events; 3) through panels of college men who describe how they have come to understand what it means to be men and persons of faith on their campuses; and 4) in campus media and publications, through newspaper columns and editorial pieces that provide a space for college men to share their sacred narratives.

True to the foundations of intersectionality, the suggested initiatives should aim to create positive social change through the deconstruction of inequality and power structures.  This can be achieved on both individual and systemic levels.  On an individual level, student affairs practitioners need to be intentional about featuring men of multiple marginalized identities, particularly non-white men, non-Christian men, and men who do not identify as strictly heterosexual.  On a systemic level, it is important to consider the historical dominance of Protestant Christianity in America, as Christian values permeate all institutions of higher learning, not simply Christian institutions.  Student affairs practitioners must be attentive and resistant to systemic oppression religious minorities may experience as a result of membership in a non-Christian group.  One possible response is to collaborate with campus ministry on multi-faith and interfaith initiatives for college men that seek to not only deconstruct hierarchies of faith traditions but also serve the gender-specific needs, experiences, and challenges of college men of faith.

Understanding college men as spiritual beings through the lens of intersectionality complicates contemporary understandings of college men both in theory and practice.  The present piece outlines an alternative way of conceptualizing college men as spiritual beings, grounded in a narrative approach to programming.  Showcasing sacred narratives of college men who have successfully integrated their masculinity and spirituality demonstrates the power of sharing one’s story in the creation of a new normative masculine behavior on college campuses.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do masculinity and spirituality interact, inform, and construct one another?
  2. Where do sacred narratives already exist on my campus?
  3. How does my campus provide space for men to reflect, discuss, and share sacred narratives?


Ammerman, N. T. (2013). Sacred stories, spiritual tribes: Finding religion in everyday life. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Astin, A. W. (2004). Why spirituality deserves a central place in liberal education. Liberal Education, 90(2), 34–41.

Astin, A. W., Astin, H. S., & Lindholm, J. A. (2011). Cultivating the spirit: How college can enhance students’ inner lives. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bowleg, L. (2008). When black + lesbian + woman ≠ black lesbian woman: The methodological challenges of qualitative and quantitative intersectionality research. Sex Roles, 59(5-6), 312–325. doi:10.1007/s11199-008-9400-z

Collins, P. H. (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Boston, MA: UnwinHyman.

Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Crenshaw, K. W. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics. The University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139–167.

Crenshaw, K. W. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241–1299.

Harper, S. R., Wardell, C. C., & McGuire, K. M. (2011). Man of multiple identities: Complex individuality and identity intersectionality among college men. In Masculinities in higher education: Theoretical and practical considerations (pp. 81–96). New York, NY: Routledge.

Jones, S. R. (1997). Voices of identity and difference: A qualitative exploration of the multiple dimensions of identity development in women college students. Journal of College Student Development, 38(4), 376–386.

Jones, S. R., & Abes, E. S. (2013). Identity development of college students: Advancing frameworks for multiple dimensions of identity (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kimmel, M. S., & Messner, M. A. (2003). Men’s lives (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Spade, D. (2013). Intersectional resistance and law reform. Signs, 38(4), 1031–1055. doi:10.1086/669574

Stewart, D. L. (2010). Researcher as instrument: Understanding “shifting” findings in constructivist research. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 47(3), 291–306. doi:10.2202/1949-6605.6130

About the Author

Danny Zepp is a Ph.D. Candidate in Higher Education at Boston College.  His dissertation focuses on the intersection of masculinity and faith in college men’s identity.  Last November, he presented a paper on college men and intersectionality at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE).  In April, he presented a review of literature on college men at the intersection of masculinity and spirituality at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).  With over eight years of experience in higher education, Danny has a broad range of expertise in academic and student affairs and campus ministry.  He spent seven years as a first-year orientation and retreat director and pre-major academic advisor.  Danny currently serves as a graduate research and teaching assistant in the higher education program, where his primary role is to coordinate the Boston College Institute for Administrators in Catholic Higher Education (IACHE).  He also serves as a resident minister in a sophomore hall at Boston College.

Please email inquiries to Daniel Zepp.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Challenging Straight White College Men (STR8WCM) to Develop Positive Social Justice Advocacy

In recognition of the recent 30th anniversary of the Standing Committee on Men & Masculinities (SCMM), the SCMM has launched a series exploring the concept of intersectionality as it relates to collegiate men.  Contributing authors will explore how dimensions of race, religion, gender, and other social identities converge and shape the experiences of college men and how higher education professionals can best assist these students. 

Where Are All the White Men?

The image of the White man who displays anger, entitlement, and hatred towards individuals who differ in gender, race, or sexual orientation seems ubiquitous in media and society (Kimmel, 2013).  Even in college, men from majority backgrounds frequently express their frustration with diversity or social justice efforts they say exclude them (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2014; Roper, 2004).  The perspective that most White college men are apathetic to efforts that foster equality or social justice is well established.  To offer another perspective, this paper explores the productive ways in which White college men articulate their engagement in and responsibility for positive social justice action.

Frequently, White men at predominately White institutions come from mostly White schools and neighborhoods, in which adults have failed to challenge them to discuss what it means to be privileged (Banks, 2009).  In college, the situation often remains unchanged; faculty and student affairs professionals with privileged identities have largely left the diversity education of majority students to people of color, White women, and/or members of the LGBT community.  Unless challenged effectively during college, heterosexual White men may leave college no more adept at functioning in a diverse world than when they entered.  College educators, especially those who identify as heterosexual White men, must understand their responsibility to better engage male college students from privileged groups to see themselves as a part of diversity work and social justice education (Cabrera, 2012).

Student affairs educators, including the authors of this article, have tried different ways to engage heterosexual White college men in diversity programs and social justice education.  One method is to encourage heterosexual White college men to explore what Abes, Jones, and McEwen (2007) called multiple models of identity development.  Specifically, men should consider how race, gender, and sexual orientation intersect and shape identity in the college context.  Men should also be encouraged to interrogate and articulate their privileges based on race, gender, and sexual orientation.  Despite these efforts, student affairs educators continue to lament the lack of heterosexual White college men engaged in diversity work, aside from those who may actively resist it.

If we do not accommodate the social and developmental needs of privileged groups, they may not “make the shift” to acknowledging privilege and working for justice (Goodman, 2011).  Men should also be encouraged to actively explore their role or responsibility in fostering social justice advocacy, or to develop what some scholars describe as social justice ally behaviors (Broido, 2000; Reason, Broido, Davis, & Evans, 2005).  This paper provides a sampling of results from our multi-institutional qualitative research study, at 13 institutions of higher education throughout most regions of the United States, highlighting the voices of heterosexual White college men.  Participants shared tentative thoughts of what diversity and social justice means and what might motivate them to participate differently.

The STR8WCM Project

The Straight White College Men (STR8WCM) Project originated from a simple question that college educators frequently ask: Where are all the straight White men?  Is their absence from diversity or social justice coursework or programs a function of widespread apathy?  Is their absence a form of active avoidance or resistance?  What should college educators do differently to engage and challenge straight White college men to develop a commitment and responsibility for fostering social justice?  And which college educators must assume greatest responsibility for this engagement?

To date, the sample for the STR8WCM Project includes 89 heterosexual White men and an additional 89 students who identify as women, persons of color, or members of the LGBTQIA community to provide counter stories or voices different from those of the men in the study.  The researchers utilized grounded theory methodology (Charmaz, 2006), which is firmly based in a constructivist epistemology.  Focus groups explored the concepts of power, privilege, oppression, social justice engagement, and responsibility, and they co-constructed meaning in interaction with researchers and peers.


A team of four researchers conducted team coding (Wiener, 2007) to identify common themes from participants across all institutions.  Two themes that speak specifically to productive masculinity (Harper & Harris, 2014) of heterosexual White men emerged from the research:  vulnerability and responsibility.  Men who display attitudes and behaviors associated with productive masculinity seek to disrupt sexism, racism, and homophobia in their communities, which contributes to safer and more inclusive campus climates for all students.


Many of the participants discussed their need to be affirmed by friends, showed angst about attending a diversity event by themselves, expressed desire to belong to a supportive peer group, and displayed anxiety about being “called out” as the only heterosexual White male participant in a course or program.  Yet, several participants also expressed the need for connecting more deeply to the topic of diversity.  For example, Jay (all names changed) shared that a deeper understanding was essential to changing ingrained male behaviors:

I think it’s important, when you learn why things are hurtful to other people…or why things were hurtful when they were happening in the past…because then it makes you actually think about it.  Instead of you just saying a word, it doesn’t mean anything to you.  But when you get the reverse side of it, and you can learn about why that hurts someone, then it makes you understand.

In another group, participants shared how people (both people of color and Whites) assumed a sense of White solidarity (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2014).  In this exchange, Peter and Carl expressed concern about how peers perceive them and the effect of those perceptions on their self-identity.

Carl: I have a friend who came out to me after knowing him for a couple years…. He was afraid, since…he classified me as a jock…to tell me at first, because he thought I would take it the wrong way.

Peter: I kind of had the same situation in high school.  A friend…came out to me.  [Well,] he didn’t really come out to me, but he came out to my girlfriend and [said], “Don’t [say anything].”[ He…didn’t feel comfortable telling me, and he didn’t want me to judge him.

This opened up a conversation about why, as a group, White heterosexual men are perceived as less open and more reticent to support people from diverse backgrounds.  The men seemed genuinely hurt that they would be perceived as racist or homophobic until proven otherwise.  Rather than seeking to distance themselves from each other, they sought connection through conversation.


Several participants sensed their responsibility in fostering social justice but were unsure about how to proceed.  Blake discussed how choosing teaching as a profession helped him learn more about the need to be a positive role model:

I’m trying to look for what to say…but just going into education, you have to respect everyone’s backgrounds, and I’m a lot more tolerant [and] humble about that.  I [have made offensive] jokes…like everyone else growing up, but now looking back…I just [think] that was stupid.

When he entered college, Blake was not sure how to interrupt unacceptable peer behaviors like joking and feared his peers ostracizing him if he expressed a different opinion.  However, throughout his college career, he learned the importance of humbling himself and not reinforcing stereotypes through active participation or silent acceptance of others’ behaviors.  Sense of responsibility also emerged from several other focus group conversations:

Barney: I think that, absolutely, there’s a responsibility.  It begins with even just recognizing that these things are happening every day.  I think it also begins with seeing racism or sexism, just realizing that it exists…[and] calling it out when you see it, just if someone is saying something racist, just let them know that, “Hey, that is hurtful.”

Jim: I feel like we’re focusing a lot on race here, or forgetting about sexuality… I’d love to hear what you guys have to say about it.

An unscripted conversation about sexism, racism, and homophobia followed.  Focus group participants expressed how much they valued having these conversations in small groups with other White men, and how they wished they had those opportunities more frequently.

For Jay, these conversations occurred in a gender studies course.  He expressed how his thoughts on gender changed because of the class:

[I] share[d] in class one of my experiences walking home from a social gathering.  I was just walking down a street and there was this woman, 100 to 200 feet in front of me.  [And] I could see far in the distance…a single male approaching.  And…right before she was about to cross his path, she angled off to cross away to avoid him.  So…I never thought in my mind people would actually do that to actually avoid possibly being raped. Because it was like 1:30 in the morning.

When Jay met the woman at a traffic light, he asked her whether she needed someone to walk with her.  She looked at him as if not sure she could trust him, and replied, “No.”  Taking the class helped Jay develop a sense of responsibility that emerged from his growing awareness and considering the experiences of others—in this case, women on campus.  Jay is working to understand how his approach may be viewed as paternalistic, but sought greater consultation with his peers about how to enact his responsibility.

Implications for Student Affairs Practice

Engaging STR8WCM is Men’s Work

Focus groups conducted by researchers who identified as White, heterosexual men seemed a natural setting for participants to be open and vulnerable about the topic of social justice and diversity.  The connection deepened when focus group mediators were open and empathetic, and participants responded favorably and honestly.  While individuals of any race, gender, or sexual orientation can engage college men in dialogue, the primary responsibility of developing social justice advocacy in straight White men should rest on college educators who identify as members of dominant social groups.  Educators should explore spaces on campus inside and outside of classrooms that allow White college men to explore identity, to interrogate and challenge privilege, and to develop responsibility for acting in solidarity with marginalized peers.  Which men’s spaces on your campus might be appropriate to begin these conversations (e.g., fraternities, single-gender residence halls, athletic teams)?

Compassionate Challenge is Necessary

STR8WCM Project participants are undoubtedly privileged, but they may not feel powerful, indicative of the paradox of masculinity, or the paradox of men’s power (Kimmel, 2013).  Men as a group have power over women and other less dominant social groups.  Participants expressed genuine pain when others considered them racist, sexist, and homophobic.  Some student affairs professionals may not relate to these feelings, and may feel triggered by privileged or potentially ignorant comments White men make.  Still, we should approach men from majority groups with a stance of critical humility and compassion (ECCW, 2012).  If college men have not experienced diversity in the predominately White settings they occupy, they may struggle to understand oppression in any of its forms.  But the STR8WCM Project is beginning to show that heterosexual White college men are ready to begin this discussion and accept responsibility for showing solidarity with marginalized peers on campus and in society.  College educators who belong to dominant groups must answer the call and engage, challenge, and develop more White college men to actively advocate for diversity and social justice.

Discussion Questions

  1. In what ways are you, particularly if you identify as a heterosexual White male, role modeling responsibility for college men to act in solidarity with marginalized groups?
  2. How might meeting the emotional and developmental needs of heterosexual White college men function to reinforce their privilege and/or disrupt it?
  3. How do you, as practitioners, find a stance between harsh judgment (villainizing heterosexual White college men) and excessive empathy (approving of their withdrawal or demands for “safe” spaces) in your social justice education with men who identify with a dominant social group background?  How does your own identity impact your ability, interest, or responsibility in the work?


Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & McEwen, M. K. (2007). Reconceptualizing the model of multiple dimensions of identity: The role of meaning-making capacity in the construction of multiple identities. Journal of College Student Development, 48(1), 1-22.

Banks, K. H. (2009). A qualitative investigation of White students’ perceptions of diversity. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 2(3), 149-155.

Broido, E. M.  (2000). The development of social justice allies during college: A phenomenological investigation. Journal of College Student Development, 41(3), 3-18.

Cabrera, N. L. (2012). Working through Whiteness: White, male college students challenging racism. Review of Higher Education, 35(3), 375-401.

Capraro, R. L. (2010). Why college men drink: Alcohol, adventure, and the paradox of masculinity. In S. R. Harper & F. Harris III (Eds.), College men and masculinities: Theory, research, and implications for practice (pp. 239-257). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

DiAngelo, R., & Sensoy, Ö. (2014). Getting slammed: White depictions of cross-racial dialogues as arenas of violence. Race, Ethnicity, & Education, 17(1), 104-128.

European-American Collaborative Challenging Whiteness (ECCW). (2012). White on White: Communicating about race and White privilege with critical humility. Understanding and Dismantling Privilege: The Journal of the White Privilege Conference, 2(1), 1-21.

Goodman, D. J. (2011). Promoting diversity and social justice: Educating people from privileged groups (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Harris III, F., & Harper, S. R. (2014). Beyond bad behaving brothers: Productive performances of masculinities among college fraternity men. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 27(6), 703-723.

Kimmel, M. (2013). Angry White men: American masculinity at the end of an era. New York, NY: Nation Books.

Reason, R. D., Broido, E. M., Davis, T. L., & Evans, N. J. (Eds.). Developing social justice allies. New Directions for Student Services, (110), 17-28. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Roper, L. D. (2004, November/December). Do students support diversity programs? Change, 48-51.

Wiener, C. (2007). Making teams work in conducting grounded theory. In A. Bryant & K. Charmaz, (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of grounded theory (pp. 293-310). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

About the Authors

Victoria Svoboda, Ed.D., is an Assistant Professor of Student Affairs Administration at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.  Her research interests include the fluidity within and intersections between class, race, and gender.  She is focused on social class issues and equity/inclusion in higher education.

Please e-mail inquiries to Victoria Svoboda and follow her on Twitter.

Jörg Vianden, Ed.D., is an Associate Professor of Student Affairs Administration at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse and the principal investigator for the STR8WCM Project.  His research focuses on college men and masculinities, as well as student persistence. 

Please email inquiries to Jörg Vianden and follow him on Twitter.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Parallels Between the Cases of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and the Black Male College Experience

Parallels Between the Cases of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and the Black Male College Experience

Shawna M. Patterson
University of Pennsylvania
Tonisha Lane
Michigan State University
Charles T. Stephens
Saint Louis University
Jonathan McElderry
University of Missouri
Janel Alleyne
University of Missouri

Although we, the members of the Pan African Network (PAN), respect the decision of the jurors in the Zimmerman and Dunn trials, we are concerned about the implications of these decisions for Blacks in America, members of ACPA – College Student Educators International, and students and colleagues on our campuses.  We believe a racial climate that criminalizes Blackness and stigmatizes Black males’ encounters with the judicial system plays a major role in creating an atmosphere where the mass incarceration and murder of Black men continues to be an acceptable practice.  The circumstances leading up to the altercation between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, subsequent death of Martin, and the slow response to investigate and prosecute Mr. Zimmerman were reflective of America’s perpetuated fear of Black bodies.  Lock-step with the Zimmerman case is the unfortunate death of Jordan Davis, a seventeen-year-old who was shot and killed by Michael Dunn for playing his music too loudly.  We also believe the insidious portrayals of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis in the media were racially motivated and consistent with the narrative often construed about Black men as “thugs,” “deviants,” and “degenerates.”  These conceptions about Black men are harmful and negatively impact their experiences within the American judicial and educational systems, as well as society at large.  On the heels of the Zimmerman and Dunn verdicts, we explore the implications of these rulings for Black males on college campuses across America.  Using imagery, facts from the case, and a critical lens, we examine the impact of racism on the Black male experience.  Additionally, we provide recommendations on the role that current events play on college campuses and ways to facilitate dialogue.

Race and Racism in America

In the 21st century, “the problem of the color line” (DuBois, 1903, p. 9) still prevails through the systemic treatment of Black Americans.  This was evidenced throughout the Zimmerman and Dunn trials, though many contended that race did not play a role in either case.  Yet, semblances of racialized narratives on the appearance, behaviors, and actions of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, (and other Black males) surfaced.  Martin was first targeted by Zimmerman as an outsider and “suspect” in the gated community of Sanford, Florida.  Later, he was portrayed as an assailant by the defense, and at times, by the media.  Jordan Davis was murdered by Dunn at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida after an argument ensued over loud “thug” music playing from within a parked SUV.  It took the jury over 30 hours to deliberate, wherein Dunn was charged for three counts of attempted murder and a count for firing into an occupied vehicle, but not for the actual murder of Davis.  In both situations, these young men were confronted and killed by their aggressors, who chose to involve firearms rather than the authorities.

According to Smith, Allen, and Danley (2007a), Black men living within the context of the United States are often assumed guilty of criminal offenses because of the aberrant pathologies that society has attributed to their outward appearance.  The implications of these typographies extend to the experiences of Black male collegians attending predominantly White institutions (PWIs) (Smith, et al., 2007a; Smith, Yosso, & Solórzano, 2007b; Solórzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000; Swim, Hyers, Cohen, Fitzgerald, & Bylsma, 2003).  For instance, Smith and colleagues (2007a) uncovered racialized forms of treatment initiated by law enforcement at PWIs.  The Black males in the study were asked to unnecessarily provide identification in study spaces, questioned about their whereabouts in public campus areas, and wrongfully identified for involvement in criminal activities.  These experiences are demeaning and humiliating, and they contribute to an atmosphere suggesting that Black men do not belong in educational spaces.  Some laypeople and scholars contend that we live in a post-racial, color-blind society, evidenced by the election of an African American president (Wise, 2010).  However, even President Barack Obama admits to having experienced negative racial interactions with non-Blacks (Cooper, 2013a).  Thus, the portrayal of Trayvon Martin during the Zimmerman trial and Jordan Davis during the Dunn trial remind us that much has not changed regarding stereotypical Black male imagery, where Black men are frequently depicted as deviants (Harris-Perry, 2011).

Throughout the Zimmerman trial, the predominantly White, female jury was comprised of mothers, but it appears that they found it difficult to visualize Trayvon Martin as one of their own children.  Images of his gold teeth and recreational drug use appeared in stark contrast to their children and outweighed his status as the victim.  Some suggest the defense deliberately showed these pictures of Martin to construct a narrative that distanced him and his culture from the jury.  Similarly, Davis and his three friends were painted as belligerent and violent.  While the teens’ behaviors were demeaning and disrespectful, the Dunn case ended in a mistrial because verbal accosting from Black men is widely perceived as threatening in the United States.

Such tactics have been used to perpetuate the common belief that Black men are “thugs” and are naturally deviant.  These stereotypes permeate the fabric of race relations in the academy and uphold cultural deficit theories in education literature, which result in discriminatory practices in academic settings (Hughes, 2010).  Until recently, much of the literature concerning Black college men was written from the lens of cultural deficit models (Hughes, 2010).  These publications often cite daunting statistics that provide an unfavorable, undesirable profile of Black male students in comparison to the positive attributes associated with their White male counterparts (Carey, 2004; Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Strayhorn, 2008).

Rap and Hoodies: Symbols of Deviance

Literature suggests that Davis’ preferred genre of music, Martin’s attire, and the alleged behaviors of both teens were perceived differently because of their race, and that racial profiling is a prevalent phenomenon in American culture (Smith, Allen, & Danley, 2007b).  Though people of all races and ethnicities may experience racial profiling, reports of racial profiling among Black American populations are significantly greater that other races (Alexander, 2012).  Black Americans experience a disproportionate number of traffic stops and “stop and frisk” encounters with police officers and, in many cases where a crime has not been committed, Black Americans become suspects of criminal activity solely because of their race (Alexander, 2012).  It was in this manner that Dunn confronted Davis and his friends for playing loud rap music, which symbolized their deviance and requirement for control (Kinner, 2014).  In this same vein, Zimmerman assumed Martin was “up to no good” and that Martin required monitoring within their gated community.

Factors that were used to justify the deaths of Davis and Martin were their attire and selection of music on the evenings of each respective shooting.  Martin was wearing a hoodie, and the hood covered his head to protect him from the rain.  Davis was initially confronted by Dunn for playing rap music.  Many student affairs professionals may have observed that rap and “hoodies” are often the musical and wardrobe choices of both American and international college students.  It is very common to see students on our college campuses wearing hoodies embroidered with the names, mascots, and/or symbols of our institutions.  However, in the case of Martin, this attire was perceived as “thug wear” and “gangsta style clothing,” which justified Zimmerman’s suspicion.  Rap music is often heard blaring throughout residence halls, in vehicles driving across campus, and at campus events.  However, what separates Black youth and college students choosing to consume rap music is access and privilege.  Still, even on college campuses, Black students are still perceived as threats, and are often targets of prejudicial treatment and harassment (Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002).

As a result of Martin’s death, several media outlets have engaged in dialogue surrounding the demarcation of clothing and music as a sign of deviance.  For example, Geraldo Rivera warned Black and Latino parents to prohibit their children from wearing hoodies (Fung, 2012).  Additionally, on a recent episode of Anderson Cooper 360, Christy Oglesby–a Black mother–stated that she asked her son if he wanted to be perceived as a “suspect or a prospect” when selecting his attire for the day (Cooper, 2013b).  In agreement with her comments, many of the audience members applauded.  In the face of these anecdotal snapshots of conversations on race and justice, we challenge the criminalization of the hoodie and other forms of urban attire.  It is our belief that stereotypical perceptions of Blacks influenced how Martin and Davis were represented throughout the trial, and due to their unfortunate deaths, they were unable to present a counter-narrative that could distinguish them from these stereotypes.

The Debasement of Black Males on College Campuses

Perhaps in consequence to the aforementioned studies, Black male students encounter more racially-motivated adversity than their female counterparts and other people of color (Dancey & Brown, 2008; Kunjufu, 1986).  In higher education, Black men are often the victims of racial profiling, hyper-surveillance, Black misandry, and other forms of gendered racism (Smith et al., 2007a; Smith et al., 2007b).  These encounters negatively shape the interactions Black male collegians have with faculty, staff, and students at PWIs.  For instance, Harper (2009) employed the term “niggering” to describe the diminished expectations of African American male college students.  Unfortunately, these lowered expectations shared by faculty, staff, and students position Black male collegians to be stigmatized as ‘dumb jocks’, unfit affirmative action recipients, unprepared, and ‘at-risk’ (Dancy & Brown, 2008; Harper, 2009; Smith et al., 2007a; Smith et al., 2007b; Solórzano et al., 2000).

Black males must often ‘prove themselves’ in the classroom to earn the respect of their peers and professors in ways that are dissimilar to their White counterparts (Moore, Madison-Colmore, & Smith, 2003).  Still, they may be excluded from study groups or lack access to special academic opportunities (Moore et al., 2003).  Numerous studies indicate that American colleges and universities continue to struggle with campus climate and race relations issues (Harper, 2009; Smith et al., 2007a; Solóranzo et al., 2000).  Consistent exposure to a seemingly unsafe campus environment and acts of microaggression are psychologically traumatizing, and must be addressed if we desire to create supportive environments for all students (Picca & Feagin, 2007).


The shooting deaths of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin have ignited necessary discourse and calls for political action.  As we understand the complexities associated with issues of race, equity, and social justice, we provide the following recommendations as action steps for supporting Black constituents of colleges and universities.  These recommendations outline how attention to these national incidents and our work as educators can shape the political and educational landscape of the United States.  We offer a brief listing of approaches that educators can implement in supporting students, peers, and their own individual learning.

Educate on Bias and Social Justice Issues, and Challenge Privilege as it Pertains to Various Social Identities

In capitalizing on examples of injustice and using them as teachable moments, our students and staff will be better equipped to facilitate change.  One way that educators can connect current events with the lived experiences of their students is through the use of intergroup dialogues.  Intergroup dialogues are a sustained, face-to-face facilitated learning experience, which gathers students from various social identity groups to discuss their commonalities and differences to work towards justice and equality (Lopez & Zúñiga, 2010).  Intergroup dialogues allow for a platform to hear and acknowledge counter-narratives, engage in leadership development, and challenge power and privilege.  Moreover, White students are often afforded the opportunity to explore their racial identity, enhance their knowledge of critical racial issues, and engage in the process of becoming allies (Yeung, Spanierman, & Landrum-Brown, 2013).  It is important to note that it takes a skilled, informed facilitator to successfully navigate the complexity of critical dialogue.  We encourage prospective facilitators to consider attending the Social Justice Training Institute, the Pre-Conference Institute on Diversity and Teaching Social Justice available through the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity, or reviewing Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (Adams, Bell, & Griffin, 2007) in preparation for their work as professional allies and as aids in personal and professional development.

Focus on Positive Examples of Successful Black Males to Supersede Stereotypes

These tragedies emphasized the reality that many Americans continue to perceive Black male youth as common agents of criminal activity (Alexander, 2012; Cooper, 2013b; Fung, 2012; Perry, 2011).  Unfortunately, these perceptions lead to implicit bias and low expectations among people of color in the college setting.  Educators play a major role in positively affecting Black male completion rates and in developing inclusive campus communities that undergird their success.  It is important that college student educators combat stereotyping and prevailing deficit approaches to educating and supporting Black male college students by highlighting indicators for successful matriculation.  Black males are not a monolithic group (Harper & Nichols, 2008); however, supportive relationships positively contribute to African American male success in college (Strayhorn, 2008).  By using positive psychological approaches to create individual and institutional systems of support, Black male matriculation is achievable (Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002).

Provide Platforms for Civic Engagement and Leadership for Social Change

In cities across the country, people of various ages, cultures, and backgrounds banned together in protest of the outcome of the Zimmerman trial, which gained the attention of President Obama and the Justice Department.  Many of these efforts were led by young people, demonstrating that youth have the power to influence societal change and social movements.  Youth have established a lengthy history in leading social movements, and their capacity to positively influence change has transcended into contemporary contexts.  For example, the 2008 presidential voting block saw the largest youth movement in years (CIRCLE, 2010).  Activism by young people aged 18-24 during the election and more recently, in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial, demonstrates their ability to successfully affect change through civic engagement.

Learning Reconsidered (ACPA & NASPA, 2004) highlights civic engagement as a universal learning outcome.  College student educators are responsible for challenging and supporting students to remain civically engaged beyond the wake of tragic events or the four-year cycle of national elections.  Educators must encourage students to participate in sustained engagement with their institutions, state and local governments, and communities.  It is through sustained engagement that they will begin to see the change that they seek on and off campus.

Reconsider Institutional Practices and Policies that Negatively Impact Black Males

Most educators, administrators, governmental officials, and companies agree that the benefits of diversity (Ancis, Sedlacek, & Mohr, 2000; Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002; Harper, 2009; Hurtado, 1994).  As such, educators and administrators must pay close attention to institutional practices and policies that negatively impact people of color in order to provide a support system for student retention while changing the campus climate (Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002; Harper, 2009; Hurtado, 1994; Smith et al., 2007a).  Becoming stewards of policies and practice that work to protect and increase the diversity of our colleges and universities should be a priority among all executive administrators.  Additionally, procedures used to institute diversity, such as affirmative action, have been misrepresented as a form of ‘reverse discrimination’ when research demonstrates that these policies benefit all members of the campus community (Ancis et al., 2000; Hurtado, 1994; Solórzano et al., 2000).  Affirmative action assists colleges and universities in remaining dedicated to the ideals of equal opportunity and access for all.

As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Powell explained, we have “a compelling educational interest” to ensure that policies like affirmative action continue to influence the numerical representation of underrepresented student, staff, and faculty populations on college campuses (University of California v. Bakke, 1978).  It is important that college student educators familiarize themselves and others about the history of affirmative action policies, as well as the positive influence affirmative action has had on collegiate contexts.  Similarly, careful attention to institutional campus climate must take priority in retaining the voices of underrepresented populations.  Several bodies of research have discussed the negative impact of microaggressions on people of color in institutions of higher learning (Ancis et al., 2000; Hurtado, 1994; Solórzano et al., 2000).  While freedom of speech is a First Amendment right, bias and non-inclusiveness by students, faculty, and administrators has a damaging effect on underrepresented student populations and the academic environment as a whole.  By investigating and developing codes of conduct that provide focus on restorative practice and community education, institutions can foster learning and dialogue in a holistic educational environment.

Continue Personal Awareness and Education

Accomplishing the aforementioned recommendations may be difficult, particularly if we fail to take inventory of our own strengths (knowledge and skills) and areas of development (biases and gaps in knowledge base).  By learning about our own biases and triggers, we can develop self-awareness and become armed with the ability to make abstract concepts and anecdotes more tangible with added personal experience.  By forming a greater understanding of our limitations, we can begin to connect how they influence our decision-making, the ways we treat others, the ways we work, and how we effect students in a global community.  Educating ourselves on social justice and critical theory concepts provides us with knowledge, language, and skills necessary to combat implicit bias, non-inclusive behavior and instances of oppression that often impact campus climate and student success for underrepresented groups.


As college student educators, it is important to understand the experiences of students and how our actions influence the campus climate.  We must work tirelessly to end racial biases on our campuses and within our communities in an effort to prevent tragedies, such as the passing of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, from reoccurring.  The Pan African Network challenges the legislative and criminal justice systems to institute policies that will prevent bias from impending upon the justice of murder victims.  We also encourage faculty and staff to implement the recommendations we have set forth in shaping the political and educational landscape of our campus communities.  As members of the Pan African Network and ACPA – College Student Educators International, we are charged with changing the discourse and conceptions of Black males on college campuses and within society.  Please join us in our efforts to create safe learning environments for all college students.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do Black male collegians make meaning of, and negotiate, their racial identity within their institutional context (e.g., Predominantly White Institution, HBCU, liberal arts, highly selective)?  How do these processes and experiences impact holistic student development for students?
  2. How do the negative images and media portrayals of Black males in society complicate the racial identity development for Black male collegians?
  3. How can the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis be used to generate dialogue on college campuses about dominant narratives and counter-narratives of Black males and their role in shaping racial climate for Black male collegians?


ACPA & NASPA (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, D.C.: American College Personnel Association & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

Adams, M., Bell, L. A., & Griffin, P. (2007). Teaching for diversity and social justice (2nd Ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Alexander, M. (2012). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York, NY: The New Press.

Ancis, J. R., Sedlacek, W. E., & Mohr, J. J. (2000). Student perceptions of campus cultural climate by race. Journal of Counseling Development, 78(2), 180-185.

Carey, K. (2004). A matter of degrees: Improving graduation rates in four year colleges and universities. Retrieved from http://www.pathwaystocollege.net/pubs/collegesuccess.html.

CIRCLE (2010). New census data confirm increase in youth voter turnout in 2008 election. Retrieved from http://www.civicyouth.org/new-census-data-confirm-increase-in-youth-voter-turnout-in-2008-election/.

Cooper, A. (2013a, July 19). President Obama on Zimmerman verdict [Video file]. Retrieved from http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2013/07/19/pres-obama-couldve-been-me/?hpt=ac_bn7

Cooper, A. (2013b, July 23). Growing up as an African American [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/crime/2013/07/24/ac-intv-oglesby-town-h…

Dancy, T. E. E., & Brown, M. C. (2008). Unintended consequences: African American male educational attainment and collegiate perceptions after Brown vs. Board of Education. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(7), 984-1003.

DuBois, W. E. B. (1903). The souls of Black folk. Chicago, IL: A. C. McClurg.

Fordham, S., & Ogbu, J. U. (1986). Black students’ school success: Coping with the “burden of ‘acting White.’” Urban Review, 18(3). 176-206.

Fries-Britt, S., & Turner, B. (2002). Uneven stories: Successful Black collegians at a Black and a White campus. The Review of Higher Education, 25(3), 315-330.

Fung, K. (2012, March 23). Geraldo Rivera: Trayvon Martin’s hoodie is as much responsible for [his] death as George Zimmerman [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/23/geraldo-rivera-trayvon-martin-hoodie_n_1375080.html

Harper, S. R. (2009). Niggers no more: A critical race counternarrative on Black male student achievement at a predominantly White colleges and universities. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 22(6), 697-712.

Harper, S. R., & Nichols, A. H. (2008). Are they not all the same? Racial heterogeneity among Black male undergraduates. Journal of College Student Development. 49(3), 199-214.

Harris-Perry, M. V. (2011). Sister citizen: Shame, stereotypes, and Black women in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Hughes, R. L. (2010, Spring). Engaging African American males for educational success. Gifted Child Today, 32(2), 55-60.

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Kinner, D. (2014, February 15). Michael Dunn verdict: Florida man found guilty of attempted murder in loud-music trial. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/15/michael-dunn-verdict_n_4796068….

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Lopez, G. E., & Zúñiga, X. (2010). Intergroup dialogue and democratic practice in higher education. New Directions for Higher Education, 2010 (152), 35-42.

Moore, J. L., Madison-Colmore, O., & Smith, D. M. (2003). The prove-them-wrong syndrome: Voices from unheard African-American males in engineering disciplines. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 12(1), 61-73.

Picca, L. H., & Feagin, J. R. (2007). Two-faced racism: Whites in the backstage and frontstage. UK: Taylor & Francis Group.

Smith, W. A., Allen, W. R., & Danley, L. L. (2007a). “Assume the position…you fit the description:” Psychosocial experiences and racial battle fatigue among African American male college students. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(4), 551-580.

Smith, W. A., Yosso, T. J., & Solórzano, D. G. (2007b). Racial primes and Black misandry on historically White campuses: Toward critical race accountability of educational administration. Educational Administration Quarterly, 43, 60-85.

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About the Authors

Tonisha B. Lane is a fourth year doctoral students in the Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education (HALE) program and research assistant for the Neighborhoods at Michigan State University. Her research interests include access and equity in higher education and students of color in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

Please e-mail inquiries to Tonisha B. Lane.

Charles T. Stephens, M.A. is in his third year in student affairs administration after working for three years in corporate for a Fortune 500 company.  He currently is working as a Residence Hall Coordinator for Saint Louis University and serves as a mentor for the African American Male Scholars program at his institution.  

Please e-mail inquiries to Charles T. Stephens.

Jonathan A. McElderry serves as the Director of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center at the University of Missouri.  He holds a B.S. from George Mason University, M.Ed from Ohio University, and is currently a third year doctoral student in the ELPA program at the University of Missouri.  In addition, he is the Chair of the PAN African Network for the American College Personnel Association.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jonathan A. McElderry.

Shawna M. Patterson has sustained eight years of student affairs administration experience within the functional areas of residence life and multicultural services in the Big 10 sector.  She has served multiple roles on projects centered upon improving the experiences of faculty, staff, and students of color on predominantly White campuses. Currently, Shawna is a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education at Florida State University, with a focus on critical theory, social justice, and student of color identity development.  Shawna is also a Dean in College Houses and Academic Services at the University of Pennsylvania.

Please e-mail inquiries to Shawna M. Patterson.

Janel Alleyne is a Hall Coordinator at the University of Missouri. She has been in the field for 6 years.  Originally from Brooklyn New York, Janel earned a Bachelor of Business in Technology Management from SUNY Canton and her Masters Degree in Organizational Performance and Leadership from SUNY Potsdam.

Please e-mail inquiries to Janel Alleyne.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.