Authentic Eagles: On Masculinity

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our  truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one's authentic self at BC.

Mike Izzo, A&S '14

I joined the crew team almost immediately when I came to Boston College as a freshman, something very out of character for an uncoordinated and un-athletic guy. It was two weeks into my first semester of college and I already found myself seduced by what was coined by many as the “bro life.”

The bro life at BC is defined by athleticism, casual hookups, backwards hats, and clothing littered with preppy logos. The bro is the alpha male of the college social scene. Being a bro gives one a position of popularity, which was very alluring to me given my desire to make the best friends of my life during my four years of college.

The bro life is seemingly the opposite of who I was in high school. I danced hip hop, couples, and ballet in high school and was also an accomplished Eagle Scout who thoroughly loved community service. After two weeks at BC, I still had barely mentioned any of these defining passions to my new peers.

I began to actively shape and mold the person that BC’s community would know me as for the next few years of my life. I overhauled my wardrobe to include khaki pants and bright colored button downs. Every other day I strutted across upper campus with my chest out to show off my new Crew Team gear with our sweet crest. I even began to grow my hair out and push it to the side, jealous of bros with “sick flow” who rocked the look so well.

Along with my physical makeover, the bro life began to take hold of my relationships. I had been seeing a girl I met at orientation for the first few months at college who I clicked incredibly well with, only to ditch her and our potentially fulfilling future relationship. I dove head first into the dastardly hook up culture much to the approval of my newfound brochachos.

But as unsettling and fake as my façade felt in the moment, I kept it up. I was popular, and people knew me as the face of the freshman crew team even though I wasn’t even that good at rowing. Being known felt good for a while, even if I wasn’t known for who I truly was—for my history as a dancer or my love for community service.

This façade began to breakdown when I suffered a severe back injury during the last race of the season sophomore year. After much deliberation, I elected to have surgery. The doctor told me that I would not be able to row for at least the fall semester, which sounded fine to me. I went to many of the first practices that fall, but quickly became frustrated sitting beside the coach rather than rowing with my teammates. I stopped going. I felt left behind and blown to the wayside.

Aside from school, I had no other involvements without rowing. I found myself wasting away my free time. My grades began to drop and I distanced myself from my teammates. I became jealous of my roommates who were on the team for being able to row without injury. After coming to the realization that I would never row competitively again, I was devastated. My closest friends were my teammates, who I had shared more of my true self with than anyone else at BC, but now I lost our common tie. What’s more—I felt I lost my identity as a bro.

I soon realized that letting go of that identity was actually freeing. I joined the Big Brothers program. It took me a while to enjoy being with my little who was very temperamental, but after a few months I began to love hanging out with him. I remembered what it felt like to help someone in need—to serve another person. I gained confidence and wanted to take advantage of every opportunity to make meaning of my life at BC. I decided to take a leap out of my bro-life comfort zone and apply to be an Orientation Leader to expand my horizons beyond the narrow life I was living. Although I didn’t know what my summer as an OL would entail, I knew that I needed something different, something beyond upholding a stereotype.

As an OL I quickly discovered that even my most seemingly perfect peers selected for this highly respected job had their flaws and struggles. This is what makes us human. I became more myself with my fellow OLs than I was with anyone else in my life. While I was trying to live up to the image I had constructed for myself, I was blind to the opportunities to form great relationships with those around me. It took me until this past summer to realize the world of meaning that BC has offered me that I missed.

During an interview for medical school this past semester, I had an incredible conversation about what it means to be a doctor with one of my interviewers. In that moment, I began to articulate that caring for patients does not mean to simply prescribe medicine and treat charts. It means to be caring and compassionate, understanding their ailments and being mentally therapeutic for them. It means to be a friend. My vocation as a doctor is a humanistic one, requiring my whole self to care for another person. I have come a long way from being the shallow illusion I was freshman year, but I still struggle with my masculine identity. I strive to bring my whole self to be the best son, doctor, and friend that I can be, because I know that these relationships will last me a lifetime beyond any college reputation. This is why I believe in daring to be genuine. To be my true self, and to never hide those ballet shoes behind an oar.