My name is Daniel Zepp. I'm an avid cyclist, devout Catholic, Boston College Triple Eagle and football alum, Kentucky bourbon aficionado, and University of Kentucky basketball fanatic. My passion for Catholic, liberal arts education and research interests related to the intersection of masculinity and faith have emerged from a series of personal, professional, and academic reflections.
From as early as I can remember, my identity as an athlete was synonymous with my understanding of masculinity. Growing up in a hyper-masculine football environment, the way I came to understand what it means to be man was heavily influenced by coaches and teammates, who espoused values such as hard work, independence, stoicism, toughness, competition, winning, and dominance over others – all values associated with traditional, hegemonic notions of masculinity. I adopted these values without question, as my experiences off the field at an all-boys Catholic high school reinforced these notions of masculinity. Given my physical attributes (six-foot three inches tall – same height since the seventh grade), coaches, teammates, and peers expected me to perform exceptionally on the playing field. While I experienced success in other arenas of my life (e.g., the classroom), my peers idolized my athletic ability, and therefore, growing up, football success served as a primary means of validation and support.
I did not question my identity as an athlete or my understanding of what it means to be a man until I experienced a football injury during my sophomore year at Boston College. In a period of darkness and despair, I was moved to renew my then-dormant faith by becoming confirmed into the Catholic Church. I began to explore my faith, spirituality, and religion for the first time since grade school, through various worship, retreat, and service experiences. It was through these experiences that I first identified tensions between being a man and having faith. I felt the pressure to privatize my faith in hyper-masculine contexts, such as on the football field and in the social scene, where restrictive emotionality and independence were considered normative. I felt the pressure to choose between being a man and having faith, as the dominant masculine and secular culture did not allow for this level of complexity, even at a Catholic university.
After college, through my professional experiences as an educator and a minister, I began to see many of my own experiences reflected in the experiences of college men, who were also wrestling with integrating faith into their notions of masculinity. This was apparent through my experiences as a retreat director and as a leader of an all-male faith-sharing group, where college men would explore aspects of their identity in a manufactured space (i.e., away/secluded from campus, confidential, shame-free environment), but would often have difficultly sharing these experiences with their male peer groups outside of these settings. As a result, many men felt disheartened and confused, as emerging identities remained fragmented and disparate during their college experience.
My personal and professional reflections led me to pursue a doctorate in education, which provided the training and the intellectual space to pursue these questions more deeply. My dissertation, Intersection of Masculinity and Faith in College Men's Identity (learn more), proposes an innovative pedagogical theory and approach to the development of Christian college men.
After finishing my doctorate, I felt deeply called to Catholic secondary education and current serve as President at St. Petersburg Catholic High School.