“All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man.”
— Ralph Ellison, "Battle Royal" (1947)
The M4 Initiative© is an original program created by past assistant director Jonathan Cox ('08-'12) in 2010. The M4 Inititiave is a group of African American men who meet weekly for a 9-week short course, to talk about issues of masculinity and manhood, sexuality, higher education, families and relationships, spirituality, and other topics, all related to being a Black man. Through a mixture of discussions, article and book reading, and videos and other pop culture media, this group explores the implications of socialization and media influence on Black men, and engages with the larger idea of "what does it mean to be a Black man?"
Take a look at any education-related headlines, and it is easy to see that men in higher education is a hot topic, and has been for many years. At the top of the list are enrollment issues – men are outnumbered by women across every racial line in the country – but there are also a myriad of behavioral and experiential concerns.
In comparison to college women, male undergraduates…
- binge drinking more
- fight and commit violent acts against each other at higher rates
- smoke more cigarettes, experiment more often with hard drugs, and routinely eat less healthy foods
- beat each other more viciously when pledging Greek-letter orgs.
- engage in unprotected sex more often and with more partners
- are less inclined to seek counseling or psychological help for their personal and academic problems
- discuss health issues less often with friends, and upon the onset of sickness wait longer before seeing a physician
- commit suicide 4 times more often
Shaun R. Harper and Frank Harris III, College Men and Masculinities (2010)
For Black men, the picture is even bleaker. The gender disparity between Black men and women is greater than any other racial group, and Black men graduate at rates lower than any other group in higher education. In general, Black men are also much less engaged in their collegiate experiences, both in and out of the classroom.
…than their same-race female counterparts
Michael J. Cuyjet, African American Men in College (1997)
There are many proposed explanatory factors for the overall state of Black men in higher education, ranging from lack of adequate attention and preparation during K-12 schooling to systematic racism, all of which have validity. Another recently proposed factor is that male students do not have a well-developed sense of their identity as a man, and what that means. This is the basis for the development of the M4 Initiative.
The U.S. Department of Education projects 2,558,000 associate’s and bachelor’s degrees will be awarded this school year (2012): 41% of them will be earned by men.
To send nearly one million college-educated men into the world with troubled masculinities, underdeveloped gender identities, and erroneous assumptions concerning women and other men with whom they co-occupy society makes contemporary institutions of higher education one of the guiltiest culprits in the perpetual maintenance of patriarchy, sexism, and homophobia in America.
Harper & Harris III, College Men and Masculinities
The M4 Initiative Structure
- 9 weeks long
- The group meets for 2 ½ hours each week
- There are weekly reading prompts (nothing too intense – the intent is not to pile more on top of your already heavy workload, but to help facilitate discussion)
- Participants are required to keep a weekly journal of the experience
- Open to undergraduate and graduate male students
- Participants must commit to the entire experience up front
Feedback about The M4 Initiative from Previous Participants
“I actually recommend others take it next time it’s offered…I enjoyed how thought provoking the Initiative was about issues Black men will have a hard time talking about ordinarily (i.e., sensitivity).”
“Meeting up with Black men that were different but all intelligent made me feel more comfortable about being at WFU. Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong, but this made me feel like I did belong.”
“The sessions were meaningful because it was good to hear everyone’s opinions and hear a variety of them. It made me sit back and look at my own opinions and reevaluate what I believed.”
“It made me realize that I have a lot more growing to do. I now am more aware of what the world is like and how to approach certain situations.”
“I learned a lot. I’m really thankful that I had the opportunity to participate. I hope that other Black men on this campus will partake in this because I think it’s very essential.”
“I liked all of the topics that were covered, each played a part in my personal growth and general education.”
“When you consider what it means to be Black, how others perceive you as a Black male and the way that you, in turn, treat others, all of what we discussed has a major impact. From the role of Spirituality to the relationships that we have with others and even the way that we eat in a business setting, I believe that each idea was important…”
“Simply interacting with other Black males was meaningful. More often than not, we as males find ourselves not talking about the issues that we confront on a daily basis. We may deem it being “sensitive” or “womanly.” But by participating in the M4, we were able to shed light on the misconceptions that we have upon ourselves. We were able to open up and share our thoughts with other men without being confronted with condescension or ridicule. We could be completely honest and we could discuss topics important to our future success.”
“I have realized that masculinity is much more complex than it may appear…Masculinity is not simply paying bills or providing for a family…”
“Throughout life, I have felt the tension between needing to be caring, while being firm and aggressive. Through different experiences, I noticed the need to move to being more caring, but still struggle to balance between the two extremes. [M4] prompted a great deal of thought…It has actually led to being more open with my family and girlfriend.”