EDITORIAL: Senior Events Debacle Reveals Mediocrity in Student Body, Function of University

On November 3, 2010, all senior events related to social drinking were cancelled by the university administration. The director of student activities informed the campus community of the decision in an open email, stating; “The social oriented events of previous years such as the Boat Cruise, Senior Ball and David’s Pizza Night have been cancelled. Actions displayed by members of your class at the Senior Rewind Dance made it clear that the University simply cannot support these types of events.” The immediate student response to the cancellations was memorable, to say the least.  Students quickly logged into their Facebook accounts and proceeded to publicly denounce the administration and the decision to cancel the events.  Facebook “statuses” soon ranged from mild annoyance to rage and utter shock and disbelief.  I have never seen the student body respond to a current event in such a state of passion and energy.

The initial cancellation of senior events leads me to settle on troubling truths about the current state of this student body and university.  As individuals, we are placing a dangerous value on drinking and the culture related to alcohol, and we have become a population infected with entitlement. As students, and in certain aspects, as a university, there is something crucial and necessary missing from our current environment: a responsibility for our education and a demand for personal and academic excellence.

First, where does our desperation for activity that hinges upon alcohol and hyper-social atmospheres come from?  What does this need tell us about ourselves?  In his essay, The Mediocre American, John W. Dodds’ explains, “The public stimulates itself on violence and drugs itself with emotional clichés.  The danger is […] the sterilization of thought and the bankruptcy of our inner resources” (175).  Many students who voiced complaints about senior events through emails mentioned the idea that senior events “are” senior year—that these rites of passage, so to speak, engage and encompass all that it means to be a senior at this university.  The tragedy of this mindset seems obvious.  In talking with recent graduates, many describe a profound sense of social loss that on one hand is to be expected— but that can also be attributed to an academic lack.  Education, however, will not leave one bankrupt or anxiety-ridden, mourning the decline of hyper-social activities; rather, intellect carries one forward and enables action, fostering excitement for the future rather than an unstable reliance on a present and past comprised primarily of shallow social endeavors.

Second, with the general manifestation of entitlement wreaking havoc on our predominately white, upper-middle class campus in mind, how is it that we can shamelessly berate the administration for canceling drinking-related events without taking any responsibility for the current climate of disrespectful behaviors that our student body has so evidently created?   Many of the remarks about senior events circulating Facebook and conversation almost always rely on a deep-rooted belief that we deserve these events; we feel a genuine authority to proclaim that they cannot be taken away from us.  This sense of entitlement destroys our ability to look at whole situations or different perspectives—it cripples our potential for self-improvement.

Perhaps the most disturbing problem that has surfaced with the aid of this “crisis” is the apparent, severe lack from the student experience on this campus.  This strange void is often temporarily filled with the prospect of excessive weekend (or weekly) drinking and disconnected social encounters.  I am not writing in attack of our cultural definition of “fun”, nor am I writing to suggest that students at this university should halt all social activity related to drinking altogether.  My concern is for the lack of human enrichment by way of meaningful education.  This deficiency can be discussed as an unacceptable mindset or attitude held by students—that which is the inclination to complete the “bare minimum” as often as possible— to quickly finish assignments in record time in order to ensure the cherished realization of weekend self-medication by way of alcohol.  It is not alcohol or engaging in social atmospheres that I presently take to task—rather, it is the root of this desperation for such things.  I attribute this self-medication and desire to an avoidance of difficult questions and a refusal toclaim one’s education.

Let us look at the difference between receiving an education and claiming one, as discussed by Adrienne Rich in her speech, Claiming an Education:

“To claim” is: to take as the rightful owner; to assert in the face of possible contradiction.  “To receive” is to come into the possession of; to act as receptacle or container for; to accept as authoritative or true.”

Rich goes on to suggest a more meaningful life, one realized by committing to a responsibility for the self. This conscious decision to take ownership in one’s life involves the following:

“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work…Responsibility to yourself means that you don’t fall for shallow and easy solutions—predigested books and ideas, weekend encounters guaranteed to change your life, taking “gut” courses instead of ones you know will challenge you, bluffing at school and life instead of doing solid work” (Rich).

This is the attitude that ensures, beyond any doubt, that a return to passivity and complacency is simply out of the question.  In demanding more out of our education, we enable ourselves to live out meaningful lives, unfettered by mediocrity or ambivalence; we are able to become persons of great intellectual stature, we earn the respect that we so boldly feel we are entitled to, and we come to know ourselves as individuals of variety and agency that will surely produce meaning and change in our lifetime.

A large part of my fear for this dismissal of our educational resources comes from the changing climate of the university altogether. Let us not forget that the intended function of a university centers on a concept that Tomas Englund has described as a “constant concern for the whole person, the integrated personality at home in the world and with himself” –a self-proclaimed Jesuit ideal, in fact.  Presently, I worry that this aspect of our university is confused, and in many areas, lacking altogether (Higher Education, 95).

John W. Dodds argues, “At the higher levels of education […] we move away from the humanities to emphasize vocationalism, business, technology.  We stress utilitarian knowledge, particularly scientific knowledge, as the basis for a social improvement, rather than emphasizing the attitudes and beliefs which must use knowledge for the purposes of improvement” (174-175).  Dodds’ critique of higher education resonates with my own concern for the current and future state of our university.  I believe that our emphasis on specific, focused technique that is contingent upon the trends of capital and technology rather than those critical, versatile tools which enable ways of thinking will lead us to become less and less relevant as an institution where one finds the adequate preparation needed to become leaders and intellectual resources in our modern, complex world.  In consideration of the current environment of this university, I do not believe we are prepared for what lies ahead; although we may possess basic study skills or technical training in certain areas, we cannot pretend to boast the ownership of humanistic, humbled perspectives—those same precious ideas that are used to market our university—that we need to navigate the challenges that await us.

I believe strongly in the claiming of one’s own education, and therefore, one’s own life, in order to vindicate the potential and the minds that have been “wasted, raveled-away, paralyzed, or denied” (Rich). Let us enrich our lives rather than stunt them.  It is through such intellectual stirring that individuals are transformed from passive to active, ambivalent to critical—asleep to awake.