Researchers, service providers and students from the University of Massachusetts and Hampshire College gathered for a panel discussion in which they examined the ways racism and expectations regarding masculinity affect men of color Monday evening.
Twenty-five people attended the event, circling intimately together in the Latin American Cultural Center, located on the second floor of the Hampden Dining Commons.
Representatives from the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health and the UMass Men and Masculinities Center used their diverse backgrounds in a variety of fields – working with immigrants, people of color and individuals with mental health concerns – to address the concerns and questions posed by students.
“This was the beginning of an ongoing conversation that needs to happen,” said Gregory Coleman, a graduate PhD candidate in English literature. “I was excited that there was a good mix of different identities represented participating in the conversation.”
Concerns ranged from the trauma that people of color experience due to America’s history of racism and institutionalized oppression to expectations in communities of color to not break down in the face of this racism.
“As a man, who are we afraid of showing emotion to?” asked one member of the audience.
The conversation transitioned from a discussion of the stressors that individuals of color as well as males seeking support for mental health face to the institutions that perpetuate these stressors.
Panelists honed in on UMass, turning their attention to how institutional racism can be addressed and combated on campus.
“I think it is often helpful to talk about it in terms of there being incongruence between the culture of the institution and the cultures of the diversity of people who have to gain admission into the institution and then navigate the institution to reach the benefits that the institution has,” said Louis Graham, an assistant professor in the school of public health and health sciences.
While counselors from the CCPH wanted to address the systematic racism present at UMass, they recognized their primary task is to diagnose the students who come in seeking their services, not to treat the entire system.
Despite this recognition, panelists concluded the event by addressing the different avenues for support that are offered to male students of color in need of mental health support.
These support opportunities include “men talking,” a weekly forum that allows men to gather and talk about masculine identity, as well as the Men of Color Initiative which aims to unify men of color on campus and increase awareness of its members.
Both initiatives were started by the Men and Masculinities Center.
Throughout the night, resilience was a recurring word for those participating in the dialogue.
“Not feeling defeated and not retreating but instead drawing on the sources of strength that you have to continue to advocate strongly for those things that you believe in and that you hold dear,” Graham said.
Jackson Cote can be reached at [email protected]