Tuesday, September 10, 2002

It's 11:00 PM. Do You Know Where Your College Students Are?

My daughter recently started at the University of Idaho. U of I is in Moscow, up in the panhandle, a few miles from Pullman, Washington, where Washington State University is located. The tales that she tells me are a little disheartening.

The first week of classes, she visited her boyfriend over in Pullman. By her account, there were thousands of people in the streets, openly drinking alcoholic beverages in public. Girls were busily pulling up their shirts to flash their breasts. The police were not enforcing any laws against public consumption of alcohol or public nudity. (Does Washington have such laws? I can't imagine that they don't.)

Instead, Pullman police seemed to be concentrating their energies on picking up the students who were unconscious, and breaking up fights. I wasn't there, so I'm going to have to trust my daughter's description. Some of these disgusting video tapes that you see advertised on late night television shows, "College Girls Out of Control" suggest that what she saw isn't that unusual.

Once upon a time, colleges operated in loco parentis with respect to their students. (That's Latin for "in place of the parents." If like myself you are the parent of a college student, you are forgiven for believing that it actually means, "the parents are now loco.") It all seems so quaint now, but colleges made some effort to at least discourage sex, alcohol, and some of the other matters that tend to get young people in a world of hurt (especially the morning after--or the month after).

I'm not sure of the exact sequence of events, but I would expect that both the drop in voting age to 18, and the generalized relaxation of the 1960s played some part in colleges abandoning this effort. Is it just a sign that I am getting old and crotchety, or do others agree with me that perhaps in loco parentis served a useful function?

Somewhere out there in that vast swarm of data that calls itself the Internet, I saw a very funny comparison of the 1960s and the 1990s. One of those examples was the incident from 1969 in which feminists burned their bras; the 1990s equivalent was the videotape "College Girls Go Wild!"

I always thought that bra-burning was an example of the silliness of feminism, looking for oppression in a minor matter like clothing instead of the larger issues of jobs, education, and rape. (Of course, I don't wear a bra, so perhaps that's why it seems like a minor issue.) But still, feminism in the 1960s, for whatever excesses it sometimes involved, said, "I am a woman, and I deserve to be respected for my mind, and not as a sex object." It appears that for a disturbing number of young women going to off to college these days, being a sex object is high on their list of objectives.

This interest in being a sex object is obviously not something that takes place in a vacuum. As someone cynical and witty once observed, "Women would rather have beauty than brains, because the average man can see better than he can think." There are some cultural problems that have developed that make me long for my high school days, when a girl attracted a boy with her wit, her charm, and her ability to dress attractively--not by flashing her breasts in public. "Girls" (they weren't women back then) were second class citizens; but they weren't first and foremost sex machines for the pleasure of this month's guy. They were a bit on a pedestal back when I was young, and dinosaurs ruled the Earth. That's certainly better than the current model, which seems to be quite a bit degraded.

I wonder if a lot of the open-minded college administrators who at least acquiesced in the collapse of in loco parentis find themselves asking what went wrong. For much of a generation of college-bound young women, there has been a troubling transition from feminists who asked to be treated as the legal, social, and intellectual equals of men, to college girls exposing themselves randomly as sexual objects.

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