Potrero Hill Researcher Studies Boys

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Author, lecturer with Stanford University’s Program in Human Biology, and longtime Arkansas Street resident, Judy Chu, is a great source of advice on how to raise boys. Chu has been teaching a course, Boys’ Psychosocial Development, at Stanford since 2003. When not teaching, she sometimes speaks to audiences of parents, educators, practitioners, and students.  

In 2015 she presented to a group of parents at Recess – a nonprofit formerly located in Potrero Hill that’s since relocated to the Richmond – at an event sponsored by Golden Gate Mothers Group, a volunteer organization run by Bay Area moms that hosts playgroups and other family and mothers-only events.

Her book, When Boys Become Boys: Development, Relationships, and Masculinity, was published in 2014.  The Crisis of Connection: Roots, Consequences, and Solutions, issued last year, includes a chapter Chu contributed, “Boys’ Nature, Boys’ Culture, and a Crisis of Connection.” She’s currently revising a chapter for an edited volume, Companion on Boyhood in the U.S., which’ll be published by Routledge in 2020, and spoke on panels discussing gender issues at the Harvard Business School and at the Dad Central Conference in Ottawa, Canada earlier this year.

Chu and her husband, Matthew Jacobson, relocated to the Hill from New York City in 2002.  “When my son was younger and we spent a lot more time in public. I had a lot of opportunities to observe boys playing and interacting with their peers and with adults,” Chu remembered. “There was actually an incident when my son was four-years-old that happened at McKinley playground. I was standing nearby watching my son play on the slide when another little boy around the same age approached my son and proudly announced, ‘I don’t need my mom.’ My son looked at the boy, thought for a moment, and replied gently, ‘Oh. That’s sad.’ Of course, I loved my son’s response but I also understood the other boy’s pride because I had seen in my study – upon which my book, When Boys Become Boys, is based – how all kids are taught to take pride in their ability to be independent and able to do things for themselves, but boys in particular are taught to take pride in their ability to stand alone, so to speak, and not need anyone, for help or support.” 

Though teaching part-time at Stanford means a long commute, sometimes by driving, sometimes by Muni and Caltrain, two to three days a week, it’s preferable to relocating for Chu and her husband, who chairs the Pharmaceutical Chemistry Department at the University of California, San Francisco.  He can walk to work at the UCSF Mission Bay Campus 

The couple have become rooted in the community, although their son, Alexander Jacobsen, now takes classes through Stanford’s Online High School program.  

“Over the years, we have been involved with the Potrero Hill Parents’ Association and the Potrero Hill library, especially when our son, who is now 15, was younger,” Chu recalled. “We are still in touch with PHPA families who have since relocated and also library staff members who have since retired or been reassigned to other locations. We are also enthusiastic supporters of the Potrero-Dogpatch Merchants Association and all of our neighborhood vendors and service providers. It’s really a wonderful community of kind and thoughtful people. We feel very lucky to be a part of it.”

Chu appears in Jennifer Seibel Newsom’s 2015 documentary film examining masculinity, The Mask You Live In, which was shown at Live Oak School last year. She occasionally speaks at screenings of the film. She created curriculums for elementary, middle high school, and university levels to accompany it. 

“In a nutshell,” said Chu, “My research highlights boys’ relational capabilities – what boys are capable of knowing and doing within their relationships – which are often overlooked or underestimated; a shift in boys’ relational presence during early childhood that reflects how they are reading and responding to their gender socialization – messages about how boys/men are supposed to be/act and pressures to conform to perceived social norms – and the fact that throughout their lives, boys and men continue to seek connections and resist disconnections. So, yes, aspects of behavior and development that I observe in my students – and in all of my relationships – are linked to what I have learned in my research because my questions are essentially about people; why we are the ways we are, why we do the things we do, and how we come to know ourselves and others.” 

When asked what she likes best about Potrero Hill, Chu cited the kinds of relationships that she hopes children will form the ability to develop. “What comes to mind are people around the neighborhood, like Adam, the crossing guard at Live Oak School; Zach, Keith, and Anthony, who work at The Good Life grocery store; Rick, our UPS guy; Derrick, our postman; Amelia, the librarian who’s usually on duty when I visit.”