In the spring of 2008, we brought the freshmen from the first pilot group together (Creede Caldwell, Andy Berigan, Brian Walsh, Kyle Kearney, Patrick Mitchell, Joe Parrino, Stephen Kam, Cameron Schmidt, Nick Etzel, Jason Weeks, Alexander Stanford) and asked them to help us vision what the structure of the League could look like. We had conversations about the core values of the group and what they would like the group to grow to be. These guys really took ownership of the League at that point, and clearly felt that they were pioneers for a new movement on campus and breaking new ground. The structure, motto and logo they designed were effective in creating a sense of group identity. The values they claimed for the group had roots in the University’s mission and identity, so they were a good fit for our context. The following is a description of the structure that they developed for the League.
The League is grounded in four values that are reflected in this group’s name, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: brotherhood, truth, justice, and authentic masculinity. The values are articulated in the form of an oath that the group receives and shares at the end of their first year:
We are LEAGUE in that we are brothers, united to a common good and committed to fellowship through the strengthening of each man who stands amongst us. We will be transformed through our brotherhood.
We are EXTRAORDINARY in that we champion justice and search for truth. Gentlemen of the League take responsibility for the good of others—we will serve others and the common good in our work for justice. We will also share truth with one another in the form of our deepest-held beliefs.
We are GENTLEMEN in that we proclaim authentic masculinity and reclaim the hearts of men: we choose to act as men of integrity, peace and honor.
All four core values of the League (brotherhood, justice, truth, authentic masculinity) resonate well with the values of UP as a Holy Cross institution (community contextualizing teaching, faith and service). While the League draws on many disciplines (gender studies, service learning, etc.), it is a good fit for Campus Ministry for several reasons. Campus Ministry’s mission states that it nurtures the faith development of the UP family and assists members of the campus community to “discover the deepest longing in their lives.” Particularly with the example of the group mentors (one of whom will be a member of Holy Cross, ideally), the conversations about deepest truths that take place in these groups will include the Christian perspective.
Regular meetings take place once every couple of weeks and follow a very simple format:
Check-Ins: everyone takes a moment to talk about how their past few weeks have gone and gives a high and a low for where they are right now.
Leader’s story: Each week, one member shares his story by answering the question, “Who am I and what do I believe?” The mentors will each lead the first two meetings and after that, everyone in the group will take a turn. Each leader will receive a guide with some questions to help him think through what he wants to say.
Reactions and Discussion: After the leader shares his story, anyone can follow up with questions or comments about what he said. These reactions then flow into a general conversation about a theme or topic or idea that is grounded in the leader’s story but is discussed by everyone. The leader takes responsibility for identifying one or two of these main themes and introduces them for general conversation.
Extraordinary action: The group may decide to close each meeting with each member choosing one extraordinary action they will take on in the weeks until the next meeting. Each person can state the extraordinary action they will do before the group meets next. It would be ideal if the action each person chooses reflects something of the theme or conclusion of that particular group meeting. The check-ins for the next meeting, then, can be an opportunity for everyone to say how they did in accomplishing their extraordinary action.
During the first year, groups focus on the question, “Who am I and what do I believe?” The second year has a focus on relationships. The third year is about resiliency—what challenges, suffering, setbacks the men have encountered and how they have persevered. For their senior group, they will talk about what they have learned from their participation in the League and what they are being called to do in the world upon graduation.
The conversation in this group is bound by three rules:
Confidentiality is essential to building trust so that everyone knows that this group is a safe place where they can talk about personal experiences. A violation of confidentiality would be about the only thing that would prompt someone being asked to leave LXG. (If someone is in danger of harm, a mentor may be required to break confidentiality and will ask for permission to do so.)
Commitment: Men commit to this group of men for the rest of their time at the University. LXG is unique in that it offers men the chance at sustaining a level of brotherhood over multiple years—this long-view offers the group the opportunity to depend on one another and hold one another accountable.
Communication: We ask men to communicate as honestly and openly as they comfortably can. We also ask them to share in the group using “I” statements to own their beliefs and feelings and experiences. These meetings are not a time to teach or preach, so we don’t use language like “we all should do this or that” or “it is our duty to act in this way.” Instead, we simply own our experiences and beliefs by using language like this: “When I was growing up, this happened to me that was important” or “I believe that we are created by God.” Legitimate and sometimes heated disagreements may emerge, which is fine as long as the discussion unfolds in a respectful manner.
We hold events throughout the course of the year that offer opportunities for gentlemen in the League to get together to practice a core value.
The regular meetings are the primary place where men will practice the value of searching for truth and brotherhood. The small groups are also responsible for practicing justice together by engaging some project during the year to serve the common good.
Two events offer men a chance to examine themselves as authentic men, one in the fall and one in the spring. In November, the league gathers for Mansgiving—a feast where we hear a prominent male on campus speak about his experience. In the spring comes the Manquisition, a mock-trial where cultural stereotypes are parodied along the lines of Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition skit (which no one expects). The first and last years each end with an LXG tradition, the Toasts and Oaths Meal, where members honor the group’s experience with toasts and recite the LXG oath.