Dozens of students gathered in the Women’s Community Center (WCC) on Thursday afternoon to hear from journalism professor Robert Jensen of the University of Texas at Austin, the first talk of four in the “True Gentleman” speaker series.
The series, presented by Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) in collaboration with the WCC, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research and the Stanford Anscombe Society, was initiated to complement the fraternity’s educational programs among the brothers themselves.
“We wanted to open up the dialogue to a wider audience,” said Nick Burakoff ’17, one of SAE’s membership development chairs who spearheaded the series. “We really want to emphasize that it’s open to everyone and want some dialogue to be among [many] student groups, not just Greek.”
The broad issues covered by the speakers included masculinity, sexism and anti-violence. Jensen, who teaches media law, ethics and politics, started his talk by asking the audience to air “toxic conceptions of masculinity.” After hearing these negative notions of masculinity, he again asked those present to come up with a list of traits that embody the ideal of masculinity that all men should strive for. Honor, integrity, humility, vulnerability and protecting others were among the characteristics mentioned.
“These traits have nothing to do with being male,” Jensen said during the discussion. “They have to do with being human.”
Jensen concluded the event by encouraging students to discard masculinity altogether.
“Do we want to reform masculinity, or do we want to work toward abolishing the concept?” he asked.
Although the talk ended with this more radical proposal, the majority of the discussion focused on defining masculinity, which made some students wish it was more thorough and complex.
“It was a good thought to end on, but I didn’t think he needed to wait until the last moment to bring it up,” Shelby Marcus ’18 said. “He almost infantilized Stanford students by walking us through so much about gender and masculinity, and I think we could have started off with that thought and said, ‘What do we think about masculinity, and do we want to keep it and change it, or do we want to abolish the whole idea of putting a personality onto genitals?’”
Others, however, found the discussion provocative and helpful.
“I appreciated Professor Jensen’s argument that toxic masculinity is much easier to define than ‘proper’ masculinity,” Antonio Aguilar ’18 said. “Even though I would still stand by a positive conception of masculinity, it was humbling to be reminded that my concepts weren’t as clear as I thought they were.”
SAE hopes to make the speaker series an annual event, though future years’ might center around other topics, according to Burakoff. Burakoff, who is president of the Stanford Concert Network, said that the fraternity also plans to hold a benefit concert in the spring.
In the opinion of Chase Brandon ’17, another SAE membership development chair, these events are beneficial for the campus as a whole.
“Personally, it’s reputation,” Brandon said. “We got thrown into this reputation of being bad guys for stuff that we didn’t do. We have a chance to redefine our chapter and I think this is a great way to do it.”
Contact Tristan Vanech at tvanech ‘at’ stanford.edu.