Men of Merit Help Define Masculinity

(Written March 2014)

Fifteen men on campus were recognized this week as the 2014 University of Kansas Men of Merit for their contributions to the University and community.

The sixth-annual honor went out to students, staff and faculty who were recognized at a reception at the Kansas Union on Monday who positively define masculinity in their work.

For Michael Detmer, an honoree who works as a coordinator for the LGBTQ Resource Center and is a graduate student in Music Therapy, the recognition could help bring attention to issues surrounding male sexual orientation, he said.

“I think a lot of stereotypes are made off of sexual orientation,” Detmer said. “We often make assumptions on gender expression or sexual orientation based off one or the other, so I think being honored as a Man of Merit helps break down those assumptions and barriers and helps with really getting to know people regardless of just their sexual identity or gender expression.”

The project is organized by the Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity with the support of the Commission on the Status of Women, who together help sponsor a poster featuring the recipients.

The award also seeks to bring attention to problems with men in higher education, like declining enrollment and involvement in volunteer activities, and rising rates of underperformance in school.

According to a 2013 study from the journal “Gender & Society,” men underachieve in school compared to women because they have less involvement in extracurricular activities like music, art and drama, which can often be labeled as un-masculine.

Bret Koch, a junior recipient who works with the KU Dance Marathon, the Community Outreach Program and serves on the board for the Multicultural Scholars Program, said his heavy involvement at the University has been crucial to his success not only as a student, but as an individual as well.

“I feel like I’ve excelled more as a person since I did start getting involved more,” Koch said. “My freshman and sophomore year I wasn’t that involved, and to know once I did get involved I got honored with something like this, it just solidifies and validates that fact that I am doing a lot of things outside of being a student.”

Bryne Gonzales, who works as a Hawk Link Guide, an organization that assists new students and students of color with their transition to the University, said that the honor serves more as recognition for the groups they all represent, rather than the individuals themselves.

“I think this award is aimed to recognize men who challenge the status quo and work with groups trying do good in the community, so I think by lifting us up and showing the good deeds we do, it helps reaffirm the people we work with and the work they do.” Gonzales said. “For me, working with underrepresented populations, obviously it says good things about me, but it says even better things about what we’re doing in the community and we’re making an impact that people are noticing.”

But even though Gonzales says the attention should go to everyone, seeing your face on a poster is still pretty neat, he said.

“It’s a little uncomfortable for all of us, because we’re all guys who like to work behind the scenes and help push other people forward,” he said. “But anyone who tells you they don’t feel good about this and getting recognized, they’d be lying.”

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