Students question whether YMG belongs in MultiCulti

Dawson Hoe

This is an expanded version of this article. A shorter edition is available in print.

Every U1, the leaders of Young Men’s Group (YMG) attend MultiCulti’s affinity-space-dominated meeting. Recently, YMG’s place in MultiCulti has become increasingly contentious. Many have questioned if their objective of helping male-identifying students to identify and communicate their emotional experience fits into what MultiCulti does at Urban. 

Nate Yanowitch ‘23, one of the co-leaders of YMG, said, “[YMG is here] to make sure that [male-identifying students] that come to YMG are able to express and feel a full range of emotions, and give meaning to them.” While MultiCulti leaders tend to focus on community education and events as well as supporting their own members, YMG focuses more exclusively on their members.

To start their meetings, YMG generally begins with breathing exercises. The leaders then introduce a prompt, which attendees either respond to, or simply sit back and absorb other peoples’ responses. 

“We try to keep it away from school and in the present moment,” said Yanowitch. With the time left in the meeting, YMG attendees are able to respond to what has been shared, and talk about how they were impacted or give voice to a thought that stuck with them. Prompts vary from open shares to specific discussions about self-esteem, or current events like the leaked Roe v. Wade documents and the Buffalo shooting. 

“It has shifted from what it maybe was, seven or eight years ago, which was less about personal work and more about, how can we be allies [and] how can we very publicly unpack and dismantle the challenges with masculinity? I think it’s moved towards something that’s more personal, which, in a way, is more meaningful,” said Riley Maddox, class of 2023 dean and math teacher. 

In regards to YMG’s importance as a space for young men at Urban, English teacher Ben Slater said, “I don’t expect people to transform overnight, but… I feel like it’s a place where I can actually see people practicing and growing.” 

In spite of this reasoning, there has been tension among some members of MultiCulti over YMG’s inclusion in the space. “White men are not underrepresented [at] Urban, and do not experience oppression at Urban,” said Ryan Steinbach ‘22, co-leader of the Financial Aid and Socio-Economic Status (FASES) affinity space. “Because of that, it feels like there’s some discrepancy [in] includ[ing] those voices in a space that is… about [up]lifting marginalized voices.” 

However YMG’s membership is not exclusively white. YMG is a space for all young men who are students at Urban, and because it is an ally space, their doors are open to everyone. This is the role which ally spaces play in MultiCulti. “YMG and AWPA [Anti-racist White Privilege Awareness] are there to provide allyship, and are there to support the work of the other groups,” said Dean of Equity and Inclusion, Aku Ammah-Tagoe.

While AWPA is also a predominantly white-centered space, there has been less concern expressed about its role in MultiCulti. In the past few years during Month of Understanding (MOU), AWPA has hosted events such as Interactive: “Not a racist” vs “Antiracist,” Conflict Resolution, Listening and Empathy Building Workshop, and Affirmative Action and Admissions. 

Similarly, YMG has previously co-hosted events with Students for Women’s Equality And Rights (SWEAR) surrounding gender. This year came with a change; ally spaces such as YMG were asked to not host events, and to instead advertise and support MOU events sponsored by affinity spaces. 

The Urban website says “[MultiCulti] serves as a home base for Urban affinity groups to find support, share ideas and work together as a cohesive entity. MultiCulti strives to create a safe space for all students to meaningfully engage in these issues.” 

While this is the official mission of MultiCulti, the experiences and opinions of affinity space leaders do not always line up with it. Suada Duvette ‘22, co-leader of the Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) affinity space, said, “MultiCulti is supposed to represent diversity and people from a typically marginalized community.” 

Kailene Apana ‘22, another co-leader of FASES, takes these ideas a step further. She believes that YMG could reach a fuller potential by collaborating with affinity spaces beyond SWEAR, but said, “I don’t necessarily know if that’s the most helpful space… I think [YMG] functions as a way for white men to have a platform, and they don’t need an extra platform.”

Even though some students have doubts about YMG’s place within MultiCulti, there is a reason for this ally space to be there. “The idea is you have all these young men in the school who are learning how to be vulnerable, aware, and honest,” said Ammah-Tagoe. “It’s useful to have those people in MultiCulti, because if they’re not in MultiCulti, then how are young men going to know about what’s going on in the school?” 

But co-leader of American Born Confused Desis (ABCD) Tara Monks ‘23 has struggled with the presence of ally spaces in MultiCulti throughout their time at Urban. “When I first joined MultiCulti, it was on Zoom. I expected it to be POC and other minority affinity space leaders. But I remember distinctly texting [my friend] and being like, ‘why are there so many white people here?’” While Monks believes that YMG is doing work that needs to be done, they do not believe that that work should be done in MultiCulti.

Yanowitch acknowledges this, saying, “[YMG] can’t offer as much of a unique perspective as the other affinity spaces in MultiCulti can.” Nonetheless YMG has the opportunity to help men combat toxic masculinity and to stay engaged with social issues. 

“I think YMG really has suffered by not having a clear message,” said Riley Maddox. He speaks in regard to the uncertainty which some students have expressed around what really happens at YMG. “I think what YMG could benefit from, and it’s something that would have to come from its leaders and its body, is more clearly knowing or articulating its reason for existence.” 

The question that remains is, is that enough to sustain its membership in MultiCulti?