Judyta Frodyma writes for the Martin Center about the role of men within today’s colleges and universities.

As a lecturer in the humanities I have had the privilege and challenge of moderating discussions of controversial topics, often based on literary texts. Over the past two years, the number of students self-censoring or not speaking when a topic is seen as “not for them” has increased dramatically. …

… During a class on Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, for example, the discussion moved away from its historical context to what The Second Sex means today and what it has done for feminism. I then noticed that the few men in the class stayed silent unless directly called upon. One female student brought up “mansplaining,” after which none of the men participated in the discussion.

As the professor, I invited them to speak. After some awkward silence and hesitation, one male student, a stellar athlete with a less-stellar academic record, who had been “manspreading” and tensely chewing his pencil, broke down and blurted out that he couldn’t help mansplaining.

He knew he shouldn’t do it but felt that others would think he was dumb if he didn’t. He said he was embarrassed about his intelligence, felt insecure, and was afraid of what others—especially other men—would think of him. He apologized and sat there, waiting for judgment.

This was a memorable teaching moment, precisely because I could see the way in which this student’s vulnerability affected everyone, especially the female student who was the most vocal—and most shortsighted—about the issue. The others acknowledged him and admitted that they all experience moments of insecurity. Once given a chance to express himself, and not be shamed for it, the student relaxed, sat up straighter, and said he felt seen. The discussions henceforth were more collaborative and charitable. The young man in this class wasn’t the problem—the problem was the attitude of those around him.