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Is that why people go to college?

November 22nd, 2004 · No Comments

I was shocked last week when I turned on NPR’s All Things Considered and heard Tom Wolfe describing various college student behaviors: Tom Wolfe Goes to College with ‘Charlotte Simmons’. I wasn’t shocked by the behaviors themselves. I was shocked that I recognized the terms used, such as “sexile”. As a married mom of three, spending my days doing diapers and addition problems, I expect to be “behind the times” culturally.

But what Wolfe and the NPR host discussed were words used (and behaviors practiced) when I was in school, almost twenty years ago. He and his interviewer seemed surprised by these activities, as if unaware of what college students do…or have been doing for years…

Wolfe traveled to universities across the country to research contemporary campus life for I Am Charlotte Simmons, which depicts college as a hedonistic playground of non-stop drinking and rampant casual sex. “There were many surprises to someone like myself who went to college in the late ’40s and the early ’50s,” …

(Side note: for a blog that is filled with many surprises, see Soylent Content, where Pops links to a review of Wolfe’s new novel …)

The main character of Tom Wolfe’s novel is a young woman from a rural area of North Carolina. She comes to college filled with naivete and loses her innocence. So goes the story, it seems.

I may have been a bit naive when I showed up as a freshman on campus, but I expected to be kicked out of my room so my roommate could enjoy some romantic privacy. I think I had read enough materials from college and heard stories to have expectations. Yet I was never exiled from my room and I am grateful.

I did find some surprises. When I visited someone whose sole item in his refrigerator was alcohol, I was surprised. I was surprised that some of my classmates could spend much more time partying and much less time studying than I did yet still surpass me on the exams.

My big shock came from the bathrooms at college. Ours were co-ed. Anyone could use them at any time. Except for Parents Weekend, when we would pretend that men and women had separate facilities.

I had grown up with a single mom and without my dad in the house. It was strange to suddenly see men in the bathroom, shaving, showering, even using the urinals. It took me a while to get used to it, and I don’t think I was ever completely comfortable with the situation.

After graduation though I found myself sharing a bathroom with a man again…my beloved husband…;-)

Tags: culture

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