Prof: urban males need help

A University of Chicago professor argued that young males in urban settings need more public support at an event at 8 Prospect Pl. on Thursday.

About 20 sociology department graduate and doctoral students gathered to hear urban education professor Margaret Spencer suggest how the federal and state governments, as well as private companies, can assist adolescent males in urban settings. Although many of these youths have the resiliency to overcome obstacles that are caused by low socioeconomic status or minority ethnicity, Spencer said communities fail to provide these males with effective support systems.

“All humans are vulnerable,” she said. “We need to better use governmental and private sector resources to provide incentives and support.”

Spencer attributed harmful actions of young males to a “bravado orientation,” or hyper-masculine attitude, which promotes mistreatment of women as acceptable, danger as exciting and violence as manly. To combat this mindset, Spencer created an experiment in which youths rafted, hiked and discussed cultural issues around the campfire on a 10-day outdoor adventure. After the camping trip, they displayed lower bravado.

Spencer said all her experiments stem from a sociological theory she developed that claims that the public often connects risk factors, such as low socioeconomic status, to outcomes, such as criminal activity. But more steps fall in between, she said: Risk factors lead to stress, which triggers a variety of coping strategies, which transform identities and can lead to detrimental behavior.

Through her research over 37 years, Spencer said programs that instill a more positive self-image promote high achievement in academics among students and help reduce neighborhood crime. She said people of the same race or ethnicity should practice “conceptual segregation” and form exclusive groups to discuss their cultural identity.

Spencer stressed that the media portray urban youths as troublemakers because they are only shown when they commit crimes. But the media fails to present those who are resilient and capable of overcoming adversity.

In a survey study she conducted, black students were more likely to drop out of school if they believed that whites are valued higher than blacks.

And in another experiment, Spencer found that when students were given monetary incentives to do better in school, they improved more than those who did not have these incentives. After she stopped giving them incentives, they continued to excel, and from this success, they felt legitimized in their accomplishments and thus attain a more positive view of themselves.

“It was an identity shift,” she said.

Three students interviewed after the meeting said they have studied her work previously and found her theory to be helpful in their research.

The talk was part of the Sociology Colloquium Series. The next installment will be Ohio State University sociology professor Doug Downey giving a talk entitled “Two Cheers for American Schools: Thinking Clearly about Schools and Social Problems.”



    The world looks like a dead end for many kids. Yale and other enormous employers need to create APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAMS (beginning around age 14) so that younger kids can see there are several avenues open to the besides “college” for a future.

  • Just giving up?

    What hogwash. Where is this expert’s credentials?
    I was following up to this point: Minority youths should practice “conceptual segregation”?!? Huh? Isn’t real segregation what caused problems in the first place?
    Also, youth raised in supportive environments don’t need monetary incentives to get good grades. The smartest and most accomplished people I know (including a few who come from the inner city) are inwardly-driven. Self-esteem derived from money is the wrong kind of self-esteem.
    PK–Are you implying that minority youth just aren’t college material? How about designing better educational programs at elementary school level, rather than giving up and passing out passes to auto shop and metalworking?

  • Tanner

    Sure start an appretichip program, try to get that past the unions. Government is not the answer its the problem. Glad to see they finally moved off the Women’s Studies seminars.

  • apprenticeship program?

    Yale already has an apprenticeship program. It takes four to seven years and you finish with a doctorate.

  • Carl Nidray

    Wow, 37 years of experience in Sociology and still no idea about the lack of a family structure and its causes. A real disservice to inner city youth. Just more liberal nonsense – sorry for the oxymoron.

  • Calm Down

    Ugh yall don’t get it. Apprentice Us isn’t saying that minorities (or anyone for that matter) can’t go to college. Instead, “Apprentice Us” is just acknowledging the fact that not EVERYONE wants/must go to college. This idea that college is a necessary requirement for a successful life is a new cultural phenomenon that has come about in recent years, where we’re all trained to think that the only way to be useful/productive individuals is to go to college, when that is NOT the case. We should learn to acknowledge and respect ALL career paths, whether or not they include college, instead of acting as if simply having a college degree now makes you better than others.

  • to #6

    The idea that a liberal college education is necessary for a successful life in a democratic society goes back to Jefferson and the Enlightenment in this country, and back to the Renaissance in Italy, maybe back to the thirteenth century in Paris. This isn’t just a new cultural phenomenon in recent years unless you’re a NELC or Chinese history major. Liberal education is not about jobs, or about being better. It’s about the future of civilization. Apprenticeships are nothing to do with Yale or college education.

    To #5, I suspect the writer knows about family problems, but he proposes alleviating them by equipping the youth to break free from coercive circumstances. Maybe there’s a case to be made for working on family structure instead; is that what you believe?

  • offended

    I take serious issue with the usage of the term “urban males” in the headline of this article and in the study. There are plenty of males in urban settings who are middle-class or affluent. There are plenty of males in urban settings – of all ethnicities and social classes – who are doing just fine. Please don’t use the term ‘urban’ as a euphemism for the poor and impoverished in many parts of America’s inner-cities. It ignores the fact that there are many thriving – and safe – urban areas in America and all over the world and instead only serves to increase America’s prejudice against cities and further the destructive suburbanization of America.