October 27, 2022

KUBINEC | What Sort of Men is Cornell Producing?

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Cornell’s men are thriving in nearly every measurable category, except for the ones that involve a moral compass.

That’s the story, at least, that Cornell’s 2019 undergraduate experience dataset seems to tell. Being the underemployed nerd that I am, I scrolled through the 135 page survey in Temple of Zeus one day to try and see how men experience Cornell. 

What I found was men feel safer and more accepted at Cornell than women and other genders, are better able to cope with stress and have more positive opinions about Cornell. Somehow, men feel more academically prepared coming into Cornell and report learning more while on our chunk of hilltop. Men even sleep better at night and report eating enough food more often than women.

While data is not deterministic, it is noteworthy how this data about men’s Cornell experience consistently sat a few percentage points ahead of women’s, except for in one category of questions — what I’ll call moral formation. 

Women and other genders are more likely than men to report that Cornell helps them develop an awareness of social problems, and women and other genders are more likely than men to volunteer in their community. The proportion of men who reported that Cornell provided very little or no help with identifying moral or ethical issues was double that of women.

This handful of questions out of more than a hundred on the survey seem connected, don’t they? Call it moral formation, or social awareness, or community engagement — this is the area where men fall short. Men have a better time at Cornell but are less likely to have morally formative experiences, do community service or know about problems facing the world than their peers. 

Shouldn’t the reverse be true? Shouldn’t men’s relative contentment and resilience leave them with more time to learn about the world and their place in it? 

In some ways, I think the moral character of Cornell men suffers from low expectations. As some men in public and on campus do really bad things, Cornell men tend to receive a pass even when they do moderately bad things. To see what I mean by this, consider the locus of campus social life: the fraternity party scene.

Last Halloweekend, I got stuck outside of a frat party with my two roommates and their girlfriends. Our men-to-women ratio of 3:2 was “wrongly” male-skewed, I learned while shivering in my banana costume, and we were only let in once another woman showed up and we had assured the party’s gender balance would remain tilted toward there being more potential women for the brothers to hook up with. 

That women are commoditized and traded like currency to get into parties is taken for granted by partiers. So long as potential sexual encounters are consensual, everyone seems to mostly ignore the slimy unspoken contract of being accepted into a party (I detailed how parties unfairly treat women at greater length here). 

This seems like a real-life illustration of the data I detailed at the top of this article. Men have loads of fun (get to set the conditions of parties which are only hosted at fraternities), while lacking in moral foundation (are allowed to commoditize women because it may be bad but there are worse fish to fry regarding the party scene). 

I think Cornell, as an institution, should do something about the moral formation of men. 

This would be a big swing for Cornell. The university’s gender-based programming is often done with an eye toward reconciling historic injustices that have kept men at the top of the food chain. You might think it’s foolish to spend time and resources helping men when we still have a gender pay gap, but moral formation is not a zero sum game. Cornell absolutely should open its wallet for women’s equality, but men with a strong sense of moral purpose can create a positive feedback loop between peers as well.

But you might still be asking: who really thinks it’s any of Cornell’s business whether men graduate with some sort of moral formation? Well, Cornell thinks it’s Cornell’s business. Central campus is covered in banners advertising Cornell’s “To Do The Greatest Good” fundraising campaign which read, “Cornellians are united by a shared purpose.” If Cornellians’ shared purpose is to do the greatest good, men seem to be skipping that particular graduation requirement.

Cornell spends $140 million on public service every year. It almost certainly spends more than that operating its various student experience departments — from religious programming to dorm life to Slope Day. Couldn’t Cornell spend a few of those dollars on morally shaping Cornell’s men? Say we created a resource center, for instance. The Department of Men (feel free to use that name, Cornell) could strategize ways for Cornell men to be mentored and directed by older, wiser men. It could give benchmarks for what a positive masculinity should look like, instead of thinking men are doing fine if they meet a bare minimum moral standard. It could strategize ways to get men doing community service, rather than leaving that work to everyone else.

Or at the very least, we could create some sort of shared understanding of what it means for Cornell men to do the greatest good. Because whatever it is, men don’t seem to be getting the message.

Jack Kubinec is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached [email protected]. You Don’t Know Jack runs alternate Thursdays this semester.