Four Ways College Students Can Take the Lead on Healthy Manhood

My team and I are lucky to have a chance to visit more than 50 college campuses this year to talk with young leaders about male socialization, men’s role in preventing violence against women, and how the next generation can model and advance healthy manhood. Last week we were working with the football teams at UNC and Miami University.

I am inspired by what I’m seeing in young people today. Millions of young people today refuse to blindly accept “traditional” gender norms. They reject the harmful lessons of collective male socialization — the rigid set of behaviors and expectations that we call the Man Box. They are ready, willing, and able to forge a new path.

But we still have so much work to do. May is #mentalhealthmonth, and we’re focusing on sharing stories and strategies to help boys and men get the mental health support and care they need. We know that half of adolescents with mental health issues don’t receive care, and boys are less likely to receive care than girls. We know that suicide rates among teens are rising steadily, and that three times as many teen boys die from suicide than girls.

When we speak with college teams and with all kinds of young audiences, we focus on the following four key steps they must take to model healthy manhood and healthy relationships for the next generation.

1. Respect and value women and girls as equals — and challenge any harmful messages received about gender. We have all been taught in some ways that women are lesser than men and that they are sexual objects. Even if we work every day to reject this socialization and we see ourselves as “woke,” we have blind spots. Only when we recognize that we’re in a male-dominant society and that we all have work to do can we truly become part of the solution.  

2. Embrace and express a full range of emotions. Men and boys are often taught to avoid, ignore, and suppress emotions other than anger. We’re taught not to cry, not to feel pain, not to express weakness or sadness. We’re even taught that joy can look weak. This leads us to be less present as friends, family members, and partners, and it can lead us to fail to receive treatment for dangerous mental illnesses. By embracing and expressing our emotions we not only live fuller lives, we also model for our peers that real men do cry and struggle — and smile.

3. Ask for — and offer — help. When stoicism is socialized, we’re less likely to ask for help when we need it. And when we believe a man shouldn’t ask for — or need — help, we might not offer it, either. I wrote last week about how when we ask “you good?” we’re not actually prepared for — and sometimes don’t want — a real answer.

4. Use your platform to advance healthy manhood. We’re focusing much of our campus mental health work this year on football teams. We made this decision because these are young men who are still often socialized to be “tough” or “hyper-masculine” — and they also have tremendous influence on campus. When someone with the status of a Division 1 football player uses his voice to speak up against sexual assault or to educate his peers on consent, the impact is profound. But we all have a platform, and we all have influence in our communities. Using our voices to model and support healthy manhood is the first step toward ending violence against women.

We’re grateful to our partners at Harry’s for making our mental health work with college football teams possible — and we’re looking forward to partnering with these young leaders as they continue their careers in sports, business, government, and community leadership. If you are interested in bringing A CALL TO MEN to your college football team, let us know.  You can email us at info @acalltomen.org.  


By Tony Porter, Chief Executive Officer, A CALL TO MEN