Manchester University
Oak Leaves

October 25, 2019


Pete McClean Discusses Healthy Masculinity

Carly Greaves

Students were offered a unique VIA experience on Oct. 15 by Pete McClean, a speaker whose mission is to spread the values of honesty, sincerity and interpersonal connection. The VIA, titled “Thinking Deeply About Healthy Masculinity,” took place within the pale green walls of the Lahman Room, situated on the upper floor of the Jo Young Switzer Center.

As the students arrived for the event, they sat on black fold-up chairs set in front of a simple wooden podium. Settling in for what they thought would be a lecture, the attendees looked at their phones or chatted with neighbors until Mc Clean was formally introduced to the crowd.  McClean quickly proved himself to be different than the average VIA speaker. Instead of a fancy suit, McClean wore comfortable-looking jeans and a green longsleeved shirt. Where most speakers would give a general greeting to the audience, McClean said hello to specific people, asking for their names in a friendly tone.

While most speakers would dive right into their topic, McClean asked the attendees about VIAs they had enjoyed in the past. Many of the students were surprised but intrigued by McClean’s sheer casualness.

“Most speakers that come for VIAs are very proper,” said Madison Haines, sophomore. “But he’s really trying to engage in his audience and what we’re doing.” This engagement continued as McClean explained what he hoped to accomplish that day. While most VIAs were lecture-based, this one would be guided by discussion without any given topic or goal in mind.

McClean began by asking what the students would like to not care about during the conversation. Answers slowly spilled out of the audience, mainly desires to not be judged by their peers. McClean listened to these responses attentively, then requested his audience to do something quite unusual for a VIA— stand up and come to the front of the room.

Doing as they were told, the students shuffled to the front of the room, trying to find space between the walls, podium and each other. As soon as they were assembled, McClean stood atop one of the chairs in order to be seen and announced that they would be performing an activity for the rest of the VIA. The first part of this activity would involve the attendees “milling” through the crowd, not stopping until they heard a given signal. After this, the attendees would halt and partner up with one of the people they were standing next to. The partners would then be provided with questions that they would have to ask each other.

McClean requested the participants be as honest as possible. “I want you to take risks,” he said. “If you feel up to it . . . risk connecting with each other.” So the activity began, students wandering through the crowd, selecting partners when asked and discussing the given questions. The process was repeated three times, each with a different question based on the requests given to McClean earlier in the presentation. Partners discussed topics such as when they first started caring about their appearance and times when they were judged for expressing themselves. Participants were encouraged to be understanding and sincerely listen to their partners, building connections with new people. “I got to talk to people that I wouldn’t normally talk to, and speak to them about their experiences,” Haines said.

After half an hour of discussion, McClean once again mounted his chair and thanked everyone for coming. The students disentangled themselves from the crowd and headed for the door, talking about this unusual but enjoyable VIA. “I thought the concept was cool,” said Makayla Combs, first-year. “It got people to come together and see each other’s point of view.”

Fellow first-year student Riley Hogenson agreed. “The presenter had a good way of opening up the floor to conversation and participation,” he said.  While it was certainly different from the typical VIA, McClean’s discussion-driven talk gave students a chance to practice taking, as McClean puts it, “little baby steps of asking, listening and being sincere.”