It is not a fair and accurate representation of reality because the evidence suggests it applies only to a minority. However, the perception of young men in Barbados is overwhelmingly negative, based to a large extent on their portrayal in the news media.
The negatives range from a fascination with guns to a propensity for violence and crime. From choosing to lime all day on the block and smoking weed instead of choosing to engage in productive pursuits, such as finding gainful employment, learning a trade or improving their education.
Because such negative associations are pinned on young males, not only here in Barbados but also the Caribbean, the term “at risk” is often used in regular discourse to sum up their status and outlook. The term is used primarily in reference to black males who constitute a majority in these parts.
Given all of this baggage, it was heartening to learn over the past weekend of young men who are emphatically distancing themselves from this unfortunate stereotype by demonstrating to society that they are doing positive things with their lives and aiming to make a meaningful contribution to national and regional development.
At the 2016 graduation exercises of the Cave Hill Campus last Saturday, outgoing Chancellor of the University of the West Indies Sir George Alleyne disclosed that the percentage of men pursuing tertiary education at the UWI with the aim of graduating with a degree was up on previous years. That is welcome news indeed!
Reporting an overall 12 per cent decline in undergraduate enrollment numbers at Cave Hill compared with 2014-15, Sir George said, in contrast: “I am . . . pleased to see the trend of the increasing number of males among you. This year, 31 per cent of the graduating class is male; this is the highest it’s been in five years.”
These young men are deserving of the highest commendation and encouragement. Hopefully, they will serve to inspire other young men to follow their example in seeing the value and seizing the opportunity of a university education. Their success is remarkable for another reason; in recent years, a common observation, remarked on by many, was that while the young women were going to Cave Hill to study, the young men were only going there to drop them off and come back for them later.
This positive story of young men reaping success and seeking to make something of their lives stood in sharp contrast with a negative story at the start of the same week – Sunday to be exact. It made national headlines and generated considerable debate on the talk shows and elsewhere for the next several days.
It had to do with the controversial call by well-known Evangelical pastor, Rev. Lucille Baird, for the authorities to dismantle blocks around the island where mostly young men congregate. She suggested these blocks were basically breeding grounds for crime when there were productive activities, such as growing food, that young men should engage in.
The solution to the challenges facing our young men is not simple and straightforward. They call for a holistic solution which tackles the underlying issues on several fronts. Indeed, the challenges are unprecedented in many ways and have to do with fundamental societal changes that have taken place in the last 50 years or so.
These changes have impacted on the traditional role of men in our society. In the same way that Government introduced a special programme in the 1970s, arising from the historic National Commission on the Status of Women, to address the particular issues and needs of women and to tackle a gender imbalance that disadvantaged women, there is a similar need now for a public policy intervention targeting young men in particular.
The tables have been turned and some would argue there is an imbalance now that has placed men at a disadvantage. Look, for example, at the number of women who are becoming permanent secretaries compared with the dwindling number of men. Also, the ratio of female to male teachers in the school system with the result that boys, especially during the critical phase of adolescence, are suffering from insufficient exposure to strong male role models in the class room.
The needs of men generally tend to be neglected because men are considered to be strong. However, men today are grappling with serious issues that require priority attention. Until a solution is forthcoming that gives men hope, we are afraid that many will simply continue to opt out of mainstream society.
Meanwhile, heartiest congratulations go to the young men who see a bright future through university education. May their example serve as an inspiration to others who have been hesitant, because of doubt, to take this important step!