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The Belmont Experience as a Man

Updated: Apr 26


Admissions sign on Wedgewood Avenue, Braden Simmons

It’s another Welcome Week. 


Freshmen arrive for their first days of college, they funnel into the Curb Event Center to preview their “Belmont experience.” 


All week they’re told they belong and will find their people here at Belmont University. 


But as these students leave the dark of the Curb and go out to the main lawn to find their Towering Traditions leaders, something may become noticeable to the men. 


“There was one other guy in my TT group,” said sophomore Ellis Stafford. “We introduced ourselves. And I'm like, ‘Yeah, we're the only guys in this group, so I guess we're friends.’ And he was like, ‘yeah, absolutely.’” 


The guys are outnumbered.  


Not 50/50.  


But about 70/30.  


Graph showcasing the difference in enrollment percentages from the last decade, Braden Simmons

“Every single TT group I've had so far has been very predominantly female. My first ever, when I was a sophomore, was five girls and me,” said senior and TT leader AJ Huang. 


Belmont’s undergraduate population size consists of a ratio of about 2-to-1 between women and men. Those numbers are similarly skewed in graduate programs as well.  


But this isn’t just a Belmont-specific issue.  


Colleges all across the United States are noticing a decline in male applicants in general for a number of reasons:  


The rising cost of tuition. 


The growing market for trade workers. 


The increasing opportunities found in going straight from high school to the workforce. 


The growing concern is what impact this will have on the American population as a whole. Will men generally become less educated because there’s fewer of them in college? Will they become less desirable in the dating pool because they’re perceived as “less educated?” What impact will this change have on society? 


These are the growing concerns for some and they raise the question: Why did the men that are here decide to enroll in college? 


The College Experience: Why attend college in the first place?  


For some men, part of the reason for attending college is their career of choice necessitates a degree.  


Going into fields such as law, medicine and engineering all require some form of higher education. 


So, for some, the choice was obvious.  


“I decided about my sophomore year of high school, I wanted to go into medicine. And so for that, obviously, you have to go to college,” said Stafford. 


For others, college was always in the cards even if they didn’t need a degree.  


“That's something that I always knew I would do,” said Huang. “There were options not to, but it just made sense. I thought it would be a good way to give myself a place to be with a purpose.” 


Finding that purpose isn’t something that's always the easiest for men, especially young men who are dealing with the same challenge all freshmen face - trying to fit in.  


The outside of the Janet Ayers Academic Center, Braden Simmons

Campus Life and Clubs: How do men fit in on campus? 


Fitting in isn’t exactly a one-size-fits-all situation, though, these men all have to fit into roughly the same-sized dorms. 


This change in scenery from the first 18 years of their lives comes with some challenges. 


New locations. 


New classes. 


New responsibilities. 


“I remember Maddox being a pretty big deal for me, in terms of being able to easily make friends,” said Huang. 


Maddox Hall is one of six dorms that house men. Two are for the guys on campus; four are co-educational and share the space with women.  


“That’s a thought I had freshman year. I did struggle with finding a good group of guys to hang around,” said Student Government Association president Carter Barnett. “It was very helpful… that kind of starter community freshman year.” 


One way to build community could be through floor events, but those seemingly can have low attendance with men.  


“If you don't show up, you're not going to do anything, you're not going to find community. You're not going to find friendship, you're not going to find what you're looking for,” said Barnett. 


Some guys may find what they’re looking for in over 200 organizations that can be found on campus. 


“I lead an all-male Bible study called Unshakable. That's been really cool to have that community there,” Barnett said. 


But when looking at BruinLink, the application at Belmont for student organizations, about 140 of the 200 organizations with leadership roles are held by women. 


This is different from what’s found traditionally in the corporate world for executive leadership, which has been a traditionally male-dominated field.  


The Office of Hope, Unity and Belonging: How do they find “belonging” at college?  


Community is only the first aspect for these men, another is feeling like they belong.

  

Or at least trying to.  


It’s about being intentional and tailoring your program to the group you’re working with, said D’Angelo Taylor, vice president of the office of Hope, Unity and Belonging. 


The HUB has been trying to find ways to get men into mentorship programs and has found early success through its newly created Men of Character and Integrity program. 


“We focused on collaboration with capacity in mind,” he said. “Jozef Lukey proposed a mentoring program for men in the fall, focused on bringing young men together in a place where they can foster a sense of belonging.” 


The program started with about 20 men from different identity groups getting involved, but the HUB is prepared to continue development on it going forward. 


The HUB isn’t the only place on campus for men to find belonging.  


Belmont’s three fraternities bridge connections to not only men at Belmont but also to other parts of campus. 


“We've managed to create a safe place within our chapter where guys can feel free to be themselves,” said Stafford, who is president of Phi Tau at Belmont. 


These kinds of spaces are meant to help all men on campus to feel ready and to be prepared for the next stage of their life while here at Belmont and after they leave. 


Future Societal Implications: What is the future impact of these declining rates of male enrollment?  


Connections with current students are being made but what about future applicants? 

With a 96% admittance rate, Belmont isn’t as selective as other colleges with whom it lets in, but one of the questions will be how many students, particularly men, apply and enroll going forward. 


The other question deals with issues with intersectionality – for members of identity groups and the issues they’ve had historically when trying to get into spaces like college.  


When working on these projects for men, some may question why the HUB would start with these projects rather than others for historically marginalized groups but in Taylor’s view, these aren’t an either-or issue. 


Two trains can leave the station simultaneously,” said Taylor.  


A rise in male enrollment could bring about future impacts socially, culturally and economically, which is why Belmont is trying to shift this trend. 


As Taylor sees it the university has to be intentional in its outreach and programming and is making strides to increase belonging on campus.  


"I believe we are trending in the right direction," he said.


"Radical Champions For All" mural outside Gabhart Student Center, Braden Simmons

“Radical Champions for All:” How do women interact with men on campus? 


As the saying goes “it takes a village.” 


And that’s true of Belmont’s community because everyone is involved. 


“It's hard for men on campus to maybe fully find belonging early on, but I think the reason why people like myself don't necessarily feel that way or not as strongly that way, is because we've been supported by the women on this campus,” said senior Daniel Mazzerina.  


Women on campus in leadership roles have found ways to ensure that men still feel represented and appreciated on campus. 


“It was seeing the way that they fostered community that encouraged me to go out more and be more involved and be more just present in the first place,” said Mazzerina. “And had it not been for their invitation. I wouldn't be who campus knows me to be in some regards.” 


Freshmen gather in circles and share their stories with their TT groups about their journeys to this point. 


As they begin to hear about hobbies, interests and shared experiences, the students may realize they have some things in common. 


It’s said students come here from anywhere at Belmont; they can also be friends with anyone regardless of gender. 


-

This article was written by Braden Simmons

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