The Voluntary Marginalization of Male Volunteers

At some point during the month of September, I attended a volunteer fair that was being hosted in the Great Hall, located in Champlain College. Having enjoyed Clubs and Groups Day one week earlier, I approached the event with similar expectations in terms of appealing groups that would be on display, and a sustained enthusiasm about doing something productive within the community. My friend and I came down the steps only to find a sparsely populated room of individuals, most of whom were representatives from different organizations waiting for someone to stop by their booth. I was admittedly bothered by the poor attendance. I had hoped more people would be interested in giving their energy and time. In retrospect, I could rationalize and argue that I went too early, or that most students had class, or that everyone but me was involved in some other service organization on campus. However, my idealistic nature lends itself to only so much naivety. In any case, on we went to explore to see which groups fell in line with our individual passions. Now it is bothersome enough to go to an event that is poorly attended, but it was more so because I began to feel as if I was the only male student in the room (that I could distinguish in any case). As a result of this, I soon started to feel like the token “male volunteer” in the room.

More than once, I was told by representatives that their organization is in need of male mentors for their program. Like a salesperson trying to pitch a product you really don’t want, these people tried as best as they could to get me to apply for a position to be amongst their volunteer cohort. Granted, I appreciated the objectives of these entities and I wanted to do my part in making a difference, but I still failed to send in an application of my own. I felt bad obviously. I’m feeling guilty as I write this article, but at the time, I hadn’t settled into a routine yet (plus I already signed up for a million and one other clubs the week before and wasn’t sure how I was going to make them all fit) and I did not want to sign up for something I wasn’t sure I could dedicate extended time to. In another context, I was scared I would not be a great mentor to whomever I was assigned. My personality doesn’t lend itself to being “off the heezy” very often and I would rather not be responsible for scarring a child for life by being socially awkward.

Still, I was curious as to why male mentors/volunteers are so rare in some organizations. I spoke with Catherine Bailie McGrath from Champions for Youth Peterborough and she indicated that they are currently having success with male volunteers but she conceded that it’s “an ongoing challenge with our program”.  Nancie Im-Bolter, the Faculty Advisor for the Trent Penpal Program, told Arthur that there are only a few men involved in the program this year. She speculates that it might be because the program tends to attract students who are planning to attend teacher’s college, which has a higher ratio of women to men. Having looked at a couple factors, I have come up with some possible reasons for the lack of male volunteers. According to, there are twice as many women as men enrolled at Trent. As such, men will inevitably be a minority in most activities on campus.

I also considered the matter of campus organizations as a whole. Is it possible that men have more stimulating options to choose from that makes volunteerism that less appealing, or is it just that the “average” male is conditioned to think little of mentorship/volunteerism? There are many variables that may account for the lacklustre manner in which males are seen to be involved in service-oriented activities, and maybe we should spend a little more time trying to figure out why.