MasculinUT to undergo clarifications after conservative media said it treats masculinity as a ‘mental health issue’

Anna Lassmann

Earlier this week, conservative media outlets said UT regards masculinity as a “mental health issue” through its program MasculinUT, housed in the Counseling and Mental Health Center.

MasculinUT is a program created to address interpersonal violence and sexual assault by increasing masculine involvement.

“Like other UT programs related to sexual assault and interpersonal violence, MasculinUT is housed administratively in the University’s Counseling and Mental Health Center,” according to a statement released Sunday by UT in response to the first of these articles. “Its goals include helping men explore ways to reduce sexual violence, helping students take responsibility for their actions, and fostering healthier relationships on campus and beyond.”

PJ Media was the first outlet to release the story  stating UT’s MasculinUT program treated masculinity as a “mental health issue.” PJ Media wrote that UT did not respond to their comment request, when UT had, University spokesman JB Bird said in an email.

“(PJ Media) canceled a scheduled interview with us and then refused to include our comment in their story, even as they claimed that we had not responded to a request for comment,” Bird said in an email.

The statement also said UT will now be reviewing the MaculinUT website to ensure the program’s goals are clearly stated.

Currently, the website describes MasculinUT as a promotion of healthy masculinity to prevent interpersonal and sexual violence on campus. The website goes on to say MasculinUT is a resource for students who want to learn about other masculine gender identities including transgender and non-binary. However, the website never calls masculinity a “mental health issue.”

“It has become clear that some of the communication and discussion surrounding MasculinUT did not convey (the goals) fully or clearly and was not effective at reaching the broad audiences the program envisioned,” according to UT’s statement.

A campus steering committee, which helped develop the MasculinUT program in 2015, will reconvene over the summer to provide recommendations about possible changes to the program’s web content, as well as ensuring it is accomplishing its goals, said Soncia Reagins-Lilly, vice president of student affairs and dean of students, in a letter sent Wednesday to UT President Gregory Fenves.

The campus steering committee, which consists of faculty, staff and representatives from student groups, will complete their recommendations by Aug. 1. 

“I will ask the group to provide recommendations to assure that the program’s mission remains clearly defined moving forward and that it is fully aligned with the University’s larger efforts to reduce sexual assault and violence,” Reagins-Lilly said in the letter.

The UT System has been in the middle of searching for a staff member to oversee sexual assault prevention efforts at other UT System campuses, but the search was suspended until the committee releases their recommendations in August. This position, which would be housed at UT-Austin, was initially approved with funding from the UT System Board of Regents. 

“I plan to repost the job after we have a clearer path forward for the program,” Reagins-Lilly said.