"Mosters of Divinity" Engage in the "Movember" Fight Against Prostate Cancer


By Timothy Sommer ’13 M.Div.

November is typically associated with elections, football, Thanksgiving, and, for students, getting one last breath before plunging into finals. However, November has increasingly come to be graced with an entirely new staple—the mustache, and Yale Divinity School is no exception.

"Movember"—a portmanteau merging "mustache" and "November"—designates the annual November effort to elevate awareness about prostate cancer, encourage men to get their yearly checkup, and raise funds to fight the disease. The cause began in 2004 and is largely facilitated by the charity organization Movember Foundation, which uses the apt motto: “change the face of men’s health.”

ShavingThe November mustache is now an international phenomenon of sorts with over one million participants all across North America, Europe, Australia, and even South Africa. This year, Movember seized Yale Divinity School. Spearheading the campaign was Canadian Giuseppe Gagliano, a second-year M.Div. student in Berkeley Divinity School at Yale.

This was Gagliano’s third year participating in Movember. Originally introduced to the cause by his brother, Gagliano simply thought “it sounds fun to do something for a good cause in November, which tends to be a boring month.” Last November as a first-year, Gagliano felt that no one at YDS really knew what Movember was.  So, to make a statement introducing it, he trimmed his beard into a mustache with giant sideburns— almost like some sort of “Nintendo’s Mario meets 1970s Elvis.” Alex Souto, an M. Div student a year ahead of Gagliano, was the only other person to join him in Movember ’10. This year, by contrast, about two dozen signed up to join Movember ’11.

The tragic death of Canadian politician Jack Layton was the strongest impetus for Gagliano’s organizing Movember at YDS. Layton, who was the leader of the New Democratic Party in Canada, had won a crucial election in May only to develop a form of terminal cancer—which had its origins in prostate cancer. Layton died in late August, sorrowing citizens throughout Canada. “Not only did Layton have prostate cancer, he also had Canada’s greatest mustache as well” quipped Gagliano, “And this year I did it in honor of him, which not only gave me more passion but a story[that] resonated with a lot of people I ended up recruiting.”

The Prostate Cancer Foundation estimates that in 2011 alone more than 240,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, and more than 33,000 men died from the disease. On average, one in every six men is diagnosed with prostate cancer. Virtually all of the Movember participants interviewed knew someone directly affected by the disease. “I participated in Movember because my father and grandfather had prostate cancer,” one participant said, “and there’s also a high likelihood that I will have prostate cancer in the future.”

The YDS Movember participants—the majority of them Gagliano’s classmates at Berkeley—called themselves the ‘Mosters of Divinity.’ On Nov. 1 the Mosters immediately set up a group on the Movember website to document donations they received for growing out their mustaches. The Mosters of Divinity were not limited to ‘Mo Bros’ but included ‘Mo Sistas’ as well.

Why mustaches? At the obvious level, mustaches, like prostate cancer, are exclusive to men. At another level, however, Gagliano pointed out, there is still a real social and personal stigma surrounding prostate cancer. “In this day and age the mustache is not really a fashionable thing to do,” observed Gagliano, “And by growing them we kind of stigmatize ourselves for a stigmatized illness.”

An odd assertion of masculinity and male bonding, Movember is a month-long event that is simultaneously solemn and slapstick. This strange combination culminated on Dec. 1 in the YDS Common Room when all the Mosters of Divinity gathered to commemorate the end of the month by shaving off their mustaches.

Before the shaving, Gagliano said a prayer bespeaking both the humor and the seriousness of the situation. He prayed, in part, “As these faces are renewed, may we remember to face you anew each day of our lives. . . Most of all, Lord, we are gathered to remember all those whose lives have been devastated by prostate cancer, those whose lives have been cut short, those who have overcome the battle, those who currently suffer, and those who suffer alongside them.”

One moster, second-career M. Div student Jamie Maury, is a recent prostate cancer survivor himself. “Participating in this event was reassuring in that so many young people care about it,” he said.  “The prayers that accompanied the group activity were especially heart-warming.  I also hope my living example will be remembered in the times to come that one cannot only survive this disease, but live well beyond the initial trauma. Early detection is key.”

In America alone over 144,453 people participated, acting as what Movember COE and Co-Founder Adam Garone called, “walking billboards for cancers affecting men.” Around 20 Mosters of Divinity at YDS raised approximately $4,000. YDS students are optimistic that by next November the number of Mosters and the amount of funds raised can be doubled.

Posted: 01/09/2012