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What Hides Underneath the Mask? Viewing and Discussing Matters of Gender Diversity and HyperMasculinity

Expansions Vol 2

In an effort to diversify the School of Education’s dije programming, a staff and student team comprised of Liz Dean, Felice Gonzales, Dexter Moore Jr., and Eloise Reid organized an event around gender and sexuality. With such a broad topic and an array of directions to steer this conversation, the planning committee was immediately drawn towards the unifying forces and shared experience that an audience participates in when viewing a film.


The organizing team chose to share the award-winning documentary The Mask You Live In, by a film collective called The Representation Project, as the focal point for the mid-March dije event. The film delivered a powerful narrative about how society has shaped masculinity for youth and adults alike. It also pointed to the role of educators in socializing boys and influencing societal notions of masculinity overall. Following the film, three panelists shared their personal and professional perspectives about the film and its topics. Panelists compellingly pointed to the intersectionalities of their identities and experiences as they relate to race, sexual orientation, parenthood, mentoring, teaching, and negotiating the workforce too.

Beanie Zollweg, the Manager for Student Engagement at the University of Michigan Alumni Association, the Volunteer Coordinator for Ann Arbor Pride as well as the Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Jim Toy Community Center shared her powerful perspective on queer identity. We were also joined by Gordon Palmer, a doctoral student in SOE’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education (CSHPE). He drew upon his personal experiences and his research on college student development, critical consciousness, and Black masculinities. Our final panelist was Ed-Dee Williams, a doctoral in U-M’s School of Social Work. In addition to offering his personal reflections, Williams discussed the film’s links to his research on the social determinants of mental health diagnosis for black youth, their comprehension of mental health and its impact, and Black youth criminalization.

Participants at a Gender Diversity Event
Left to Right: Panelists Beanie Zollweg, Ed-Dee Williams, Gordon Palmer and Moderator Nicolas Boileau

The gender diversity event was moderated by Nicolas Boileau, a SOE Educational Studies doctoral student specializing in Mathematics Education. Boileau has a background in teaching secondary school mathematics and conducts research on secondary school mathematics teacher decision-making in the Geometry, Reasoning and Instructional Practice (GRIP) laboratory. Boileau posed questions to the panelists provided by the event organizers and audience members. Several questions related to the film’s central metaphor of masking or unmasking emotions and healthy expressions of masculinity. Questions were also asked about the steps that educators, families, and community members can take to lovingly nurture boys and affirm an array of identities that people assume along a gender identity spectrum.

The film and subsequent conversation allowed SOE community members to hear from researchers on their fields of expertise and self-reflect about their influence as educators and scholars. Panelists challenged attendees to both ponder the ways they may perpetuate artificially constructed gender norms and the ways they help socialize boys. Attendees were further encouraged to consider what effect such behaviors have on children and on society as a whole. When asked how best to move forward in addressing themes of toxic masculinity and gender identity, the panelists all agreed it is best to listen to children, emotionally nurture and affirm them, and strive to guide toward them becoming motivated and compassionate stakeholders in their own learning and gender socialization. To learn more about the film featured, follow this link.

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The Marsal Family School of Education is proud to be a leader in the campus-wide initiative promoting Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity. Adding "Justice" to these values underscores the role of educators in the creation of just societies. Through research, public scholarship, community building, and the preparation of education practitioners and policymakers, we articulate and advance our dije agenda.