Animal House on Steroids – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Animal House on Steroids

April 16, 2013, 2:17 pm

By David J. Leonard and C. Richard King

Recently, David Warner, a colleague in our department at Washington State University, was severely beaten outside an off-campus bar. While the facts are still unclear, the police have indicated that drinking was most likely involved. The incident was among countless acts of violence and violation perpetrated on and around college campuses in recent weeks, all by-products of a culture of excess that celebrates intoxication. At Washington State, we have seen a semester in which police officers reported that alcohol played a role in three students’ falling from buildings and another student’s death, from alcohol poisoning. Such events are a tragic reminder of the costs of America’s collegiate party culture—which parents and administrators often lament, but which the structure of higher education tacitly endorses.

Of course, collegiate partying is nothing new. It is the stuff of local legend and school tradition, woven into the mythos of American life. For years, higher education has served as a rite of passage for young men and (increasingly) women, a time between childhood and adulthood in which essential skills, secret knowledge, and transformative experience prepare them for new roles and responsibilities in society. Important, this phase of the (upper- and middle-class) life cycle long has coupled the seriousness of education and the practicality of career preparation with the freedoms, experiments, and indulgences of social life. And academic leaders and student-life professionals have sought to counter the abuses and excesses associated with the latter to advance the former.

Increasingly over the past two or three decades, however, that balance has begun to break down, as universities have begun to actively contribute to a new formula that often embraces entitlement and indulgence over learning and hard work.

Along with the media, which celebrate collegiate party culture and regularly issue lists of “the best party schools,” institutions also promote an atmosphere the puts fun and experience ahead of academics and learning. In an era of increasing tuition and shrinking job prospects, universities can no longer promise a certain path to the American Dream. In light of the continuing structural realignments, party culture provides some students with more compelling reasons to fork over thousands of dollars. In their new book, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, the sociologists Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton concluded that America’s universities use the “party pathway” to lure upper-middle-class students onto campus. “At the heart of the party pathway was a powerful Greek system, a residence-hall system that fed students into the party scene, and numerous ‘easy, majors,” they write, describing their research in The Chronicle. “As the most visible and well-resourced route through the institution, the party pathway was impossible to avoid—even by those who wished to.”

Continue reading at Animal House on Steroids – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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