Neag Expert Makes Call to Action for Educators to Teach “The Psychology of Men and Boys”

Jim O'Neil (on the left) gathers with two of the co-authors, Bryce (Neag doctoral student) and Sara Renzulli (Neag alumnus).
Jim O’Neil (on the left) gathers with two of the co-authors Bryce Crasper (Neag doctoral student) and Sara Renzulli (Neag alumnus). (Photo credit: Shawn Kornegay Neag/UConn)

A special section of articles put together by Neag School of Education Educational Psychology Professor James O’Neil, PhD, is a call to action for more colleges and universities to offer courses on “Teaching the Psychology of Men”—an emerging, but often controversial, discipline.

Published in the July issue of the Psychology of Men and Masculinity, the seven articles focus on the content and process of teaching courses in the field. It’s an area slowly, but steadily, being recognized as increasingly important in psychology and education, though not fast enough for O’Neil. He began the process of creating this new teaching discipline in psychology 10 years ago by inviting three colleagues to join an American Psychological Association (APA) Committee on Teaching the Psychology of Men.

“Classes on women’s issues and the psychology of women have existed since the 1970s, but it’s not just women who are complex and face challenges and problems with gender roles,” O’Neil said. “Boys and men struggle with gender role issues that are related to social and emotional issues that touch all areas of their lives—home, school and the workplace.”

Understanding the psychology of boys and men is also critically relevant to being an educator, yet one of least developed areas of teacher education, O’Neil said, adding that he believes this deficit will change in coming decades.

“Too many men and boys are walking around masked, hiding their worries, confusion and pain, but these tend to not always be the most popular ideas,” explained O’Neil, who developed UConn’s first class in the discipline in 1990.

At the time, no more than a handful of classes like his “The Psychology of Men and Boys In Education” were being taught in the U.S. Today, O’Neil offers three courses on the psychology of men through the Neag School’s Department of Educational Psychology, as well as oversees what most consider the nation’s leading research program in the psychology of men.

This growth of courses at UConn is something that inspires O’Neil, but his goal is to see it occur nationwide. Currently, just 61 U.S. colleges offer psychology of men classes.

“That’s a problem that needs attention,” O’Neil said.

The complexity of developing curricula and resistance to the topic are among the reasons for the deficit, O’Neil believes. Articles in the special section are meant to help combat these and other challenges. Their authors include top leaders in the field, who in addition to O’Neil include Christopher Kilmartin from the University of Mary Washington, Michael Addis from Clark University, James Mahalik from Boston College, Joan Chrisler from Connecticut College and John Robertson, a private clinician in Lawrence, Kan.

However, another reason for the deficit, O’Neil said, is gender politics and denial: “The idea that there might be sexism against boys and men? To many, those are controversial words. The idea that boys and men might be vulnerable—that we might have to rethink gender roles—is threatening to the patriarchal status quo.”

Other articles in the special section provide a national survey on professors’ attitudes about teaching the psychology of men and examine its complexities and challenges. Among those writing about its need and implications are three graduate students: UConn Educational Psychology doctoral student and Eastern Connecticut State University counselor Bryce Crapser, University of Utah Counseling Psychology doctoral student William Elder, and recently graduated UConn Educational Psychology doctoral student Sara Renzulli.

“Course content in the psychology of men is unique, but I think it is the method used by its instructors that make it truly extraordinary,” Elder said. “I’ve found most instructors teach the subject from a psychoeducational perspective and prioritize students’ desire to clarify and deepen their of understanding of men. In the end, the success of the course is gauged on the quality of the students’ engagement.”

O’Neil believes the future of teaching the psychology of men lies with those entering higher education as professors. “I wanted my doctoral students involved in the research on teaching the psychology of men. Bryce, Sara and William all made significant contributions to the special section, and we had a good time with process. Most of my colleagues would agree, involving students in our research is what the Neag School of Education is really about.”

Renzulli, who co-authored two articles in the special section and served as a co-editor, called the experience “transformative.”

“The most essential lesson I learned during this multi-year project was that if you are passionate about a subject, and have the skills and drive to follow through on the work, you can perform and complete research that will benefit the field,” said Renzulli, who works as an academic advisor in UConn’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. “I believe all of us involved in the special issue made an important contribution to the field of psychology of men.”

Crapser shared similar sentiments: “Building and teaching a psychology of men course was a professional and personal challenge that brought new meaning to my work as a clinician and instructor. With the efforts of Jim, Sara, Will and the other incredible professionals, I hope we are working toward a more healthy and productive approach to teaching about, and living in, our gendered world.”

Today, the psychology of men consists of approximately 700 researchers, professors and practitioners from across the country, including 125 women, O’Neil noted. All are members of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity, a division of the APA O’Neil founded with a small group of psychologists in 1995.

To help educators preparing psychology of men classes, O’Neil and Renzulli created a teaching resource web page that includes texts, sample syllabi, videos, networking support and guidance on course preparation and implementation.                         

In July 2014, the APA will publish O’Neil’s latest book, The Psychology of Men and Contextual Paradigms of Gender Role Conflict: Theory, Research, Clinical Practice, and Expanded Services for Men. The work summarizes his 35 years of research on men’s gender role conflict and includes a review of the 325 studies that have used his Gender Role Conflict Scale.

“Another reason this discipline is so critical is that it’s committed to men’s diversity and multiculturalism, the oppressed in society and social justice,” O’Neil added. “It’s up to us in higher education to do research and teach courses and then public understanding and need for action will increase.

“There is resistance when you begin to talk about masculinity and gender role issues,” he continued. “We’re saying that superficial beliefs like ‘boys will be boys’ make no sense; that men and boys have social and psychological issues that need to be recognized and addressed, and that we in higher education are responsible for paving the way.”


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