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Joey LaLiberte ’18, of Needham, Mass., received a national honor for his research on cultures of masculinity at boys' summer camps.

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Student Earns Outstanding Research Award from American Camp Association

March 21, 2018

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Joey LaLiberte, a senior from Needham, Massachusetts, received the Marge Scanlin Outstanding Student Research Award from the American Camp Association at its recent national conference in Orlando, FL. The award recognizes completed research efforts that “result in originality, innovation, and significant contribution to the advancement of the body of knowledge concerning the camp experience.” LaLiberte presented his work at the conference’s research symposium.

The sociology/anthropology major, who minored in Spanish and education studies, conducted his research on how camps can play a part in changing toxic expectations of masculinity that he believes puts boys and young men at risk. His ACA presentation was titled “How the Summer Camp Experience Influences Boys’ Expectations of Toughness and Expression of Weakness.”

"I was not surprised at all that Joey won this award, or that during his presentation other conference attendees assumed he was a graduate student or young faculty member," said Matt Lawrence, assistant professor of sociology and LaLiberte's advisor. "Going to a conference is not only an opportunity for students to present their research; it is also an opportunity for students to see themselves as members of a broader community of scholars. That was certainly the case for Joey, as the American Camp Association has begun turning to him as an expert in the field of how summer camps shape constructions of masculinity."

LaLiberte says he first became interested in this research two years ago when he was working at a boys’ camp in New Hampshire. One of the camp directors gave a talk about the modern-day “crisis of masculinity” in contrast to President Teddy Roosevelt’s “Strenuous Life” speech urging boys and men to embrace a hypermasculine way of living. Camps were considered part of the solution back then as they reconnected boys to the outdoors.

“Now, the crisis is reversed,” say LaLiberte, “and yet again camp is the outlet, only this time it is providing a safe/accepting space for boys to feel less pressure to adhere to typical masculine norms: physical strength, toughness, emotional stoicism, etc.”

LaLiberte conducted his initial research, including a 22-question survey, at Camp Belknap in Tuftonboro, New Hampshire. He is currently developing his data into a senior thesis and is planning to present it at Middlebury’s Spring Student Symposium.

LaLiberte says camps can play an important role in providing an environment in which boys feel accepted for who they are and do not feel the need to put on a masculine front. As a lifelong camper and football player—including playing as a defensive lineman for Middlebury—his interest is also personal.

The problem became very clear when a frustrating injury during his junior year at Middlebury sidelined him for six months. He felt angry, depressed, in constant pain, and says he felt he had to suppress it all.

“Those feelings were hardwired in me to the point where they felt like a natural response,” said LaLiberte. “It’s feelings like this that put boys in a very risky position that can render them vulnerable to committing acts of aggression and violence.”

While he’s not certain what comes after Middlebury, LaLiberte knows that he wants to teach and coach next year at a private school in the New England area, and he plans to bring lessons learned from his research wherever he goes.

“I think this stuff is very pertinent today, especially with the current climate of gun violence and sexual assault,” said LaLiberte. “It took me until I was 20 years old to realize that I didn’t have to suppress my emotions and bottle everything up—that I could vocalize them and not have my masculinity called into question.”

"Joey’s project exemplifies what Middlebury SOAN majors can do," said Lawrence. "It combines personal reflection and historical research with critical engagement of important contemporary social issues. His research is even more impressive given that he completed most of it outside the scope of his equally excellent senior project. I am delighted that more students now see survey methods and data analysis as central to their SOAN studies. And I am thrilled that the full campus community will have the chance to learn about Joey's work during the upcoming Spring Symposium."