“Guy problem” in service learning trips suggests larger cultural trend


Women heavily outweigh men when it comes to applicants for this year's service learning trips, even more than in previous years. This photo is from the trip to Egypt in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Ann Lawson)

A disproportionately low number of men have applied for this year’s service learning trips. And according to one Malone professor, it may be part of a much larger cultural trend.

Of a total 79 students going on service learning trips, only about 18 percent are men according to an official list of students who have applied. That means that for every male student attending a trip this year, there will be an average of four female students.

Apparently this isn’t a new trend either. In the 2009-10 school year, only around 31 percent of the students going on service learning trips were men. The year prior to that, the number was a mere 21 percent.

PART OF A LARGER TREND?

Associate professor of history Dr. Jay Case is leading a trip to Jamaica this summer that has one male out of six students. He thinks the service learning imbalance is a microcosm of something much larger.

“It’s a cultural problem, actually,” Case said. “It’s bigger than Malone, and it’s bigger than the guys at Malone.”

The problem Case was referring to is what he called the “guy problem.” He defines it as a far-reaching cultural trend that “discourages men from growing up.”

As a way of illustrating the problem, Case showed Bud Light beer commercials in his Civil War class. He said the commercials celebrate a view of manhood that is self-centered, irresponsible and based on following one’s impulses.

Due to consumerism and media influences, Case said men have accepted an image of what it means to be a man that is not consistent with what a Christian man should be. He said part of combating the problem “is to help men see that they have been fed a flawed view of what it means to be male.”

“Some of us just tend to think men are hardwired to be slackers,” he said. “And we’re not.”

Case said the problem affects both genders, but for some reason falls disproportionately on males. He sees the imbalance between men and women on service learning trips as a perfect example of a much wider cultural perception of how men are expected to behave.

“What we tend to think is that…we’re wired this way, that females are wired to be more compassionate,” he said.

Case however disagrees, noting times in history when men were much more socially active and responsible. He pointed out that some of the earliest orphanages were established and run by men.

Now it appears as though men are in the minority when it comes to service. Case said women are overrepresented in churches and service organizations, a phenomenon that dates back over 100 years.

Case had the impression that Malone is better than other secular colleges when it comes to the “guy problem.”

“We should look different, and we probably should look distinctively different,” he said. Case said it was a “judgment call” on whether or not Malone looked distinctive enough.

A LACK OF PARITY

While it’s true that the majority of Malone students are women, the service learning numbers are still disproportionately low.

According to data from the 2010 Malone University Factbook, approximately 59 percent of undergraduate students are female. Compare that to the numbers for the service learning trips—about 82 percent of the applicants are women—and it’s clear that there’s a lot of disparity.

“I’m kind of baffled, and I’m kind of disappointed,” instructor of communication arts Ann Lawson said.

“It seems to me that there’s something vastly missing, that there’s not parity,” she said.

For Lawson, who is co-leading a trip to Egypt, having a shortage of men is particularly problematic. In Egypt, women don’t travel without a male companion. Cultural differences such as these make it imperative for there to be at least some men going to Egypt.

Lawson’s group has only two men out of nine students. She was adamant about wanting to take a diverse group.

“I don’t want to take a homogenous group,” she said.

Lawson added that she thought “all of the trips are enhanced by a diversity of perspective.”

Lawson said women encounter the same problems that men do when it comes to going on the service learning trips. She mentioned that finances were one of the big obstacles students faced in going on the trips, but was quick to point out that money was a problem for women as well as men.

“Every reason that I’ve been told I say applies to the women, too,” she said. “What’s unique about the men as far as why they’re not applying?”

MORE THAN JUST SERVICE LEARNING

Director of Service Learning Celia King said she has noticed a gender imbalance in Bible studies, discipleship groups and even class participation.

“We have a hard time getting men to be involved,” she said.

King underscored that getting more men involved in things such as service learning would be a definite benefit.

“We are at our best when genders are working together,” King said. “So to have any one gender overrepresented in something is limiting.”

Junior media communication major Ryan Barnett is one of the 14 men who are going on a service learning trip this year.

He said he thought the process of applying for the service learning trips served to dissuade men from going. Barnett also said that male students would be more likely to go if they were asked.

In spite of the fact that there are eight different trips scheduled to diverse places around the world such as Israel, Egypt, China and South Africa, Barnett didn’t think some men were motivated to apply.

“I feel like some of the guys are just content with seeing it on TV rather than going and actually seeing it.”

Jesse Peek is a staff writer for The Aviso.

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6 Responses to ““Guy problem” in service learning trips suggests larger cultural trend”

  1. I assume gaming plays a significant part, Scott. I wonder how many of our male students come to us from homes where gaming was limited and now feel like there is unlimited freedom to game. Of course many have been gaming since a very young age and just continue doing so… This is an excellent point though…

    December 7, 2010 at 4:04 pm
  2. Scott Waalkes #

    What role do video games play here?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:21 am
  3. Victoria Chavez #

    Thanks for writing this, Jesse. This is a necessary conversation to have on campus. I think it’s so important to look at how culture affects our perception of gendered behavior.

    November 29, 2010 at 9:47 pm
  4. In the last 10 years, we have also seen a steady decline in men as SAC members…

    November 23, 2010 at 7:06 pm
  5. Cale Short #

    Ryan Barnett is correct on all accounts.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm
  6. Ann Lawson #

    Good job, Jesse! You spent a lot of time interviewing so many people for this story. Thanks for sharing this concern with the campus community!

    November 23, 2010 at 3:27 pm