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October 25, 1970 - Image 4

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1970-10-25

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a
special
feature

the

sunday

daiy

by
rick
perloff

Number 34 Night Editor: Steve Koppman

Sunday, October 25, 1970

A looka
S traigh t,
IN AN AGE when many young people have
stripped themselves of traditional Amer-
can values, when students have massed to
protest the politics of the nation, when
youth and its elders are often cultures
apart, what are the views of the entering
freshmen as they leave their middleclass
past for the life-style of the campus?
Why are they in college? What are their
views toward Politics, pot and sex? Do
they identify with the radical movements?
Last month, with these questions in mind,
Daily reporter Rick Perloff talked with 24
freshmen picked randomly from the Resi-
dence Hall Directory and the Freshman
Record.
TALKING WITH freshmen, some general
patterns emerge:
All had assumed they would
attend college, given the demands of society
for a degree as a prerequisite for a good
job.
0 The overwhelming majority does not
plan to drop out, even if classes become
dull.
4 About two-thirds are reluctant or uncer-
tain to indulge in activities society con-
siders objectionable, like smoking pot or
engaging in pre-marital sexual intercourse.
The same number will attend church or syn-
agogue as students at least sometimes.
i There is a near-even split between those
who have a relatively high level of political
and social awareness and others who have
a more amorphous and apathetic approach
to politics. However, none had any faith
in working through "the Movement" to ef-
fect social change and strongly criticized
the violent tactics of the New Left.
M Despite their "traditional" reasons for
attending college and reluctance about new,
social practices, most showed a general
open-mindedness toward trying new exper-

the

class

of

'74:
here

'1

open-minded,

to

learn

Ben's parents applied no pressure on
him to attend a university; they pretty much
left the decision up to him. And like all but
four of the freshmen, he did not question
attending college before entering the Uni-
versity. It was just a natural extension from
high school that he realized he needed if
he were to pursue his interest in science
and if he hoped to get a good job after
graduation.
It was difficult for most of the freshmen
to air any precise reason on when they de-
cided to attend college or why. College, it
seems, was always there.
But of the four people who did consider
not attending, they were exposed either to
unsatisfactory educational experiences in
high school or had heard serious criticisms
of universities - that they were impersonal,
educationally vapid or politically corrupt.
And unlike other freshmen who may have
encountered similar experiences, they re-
lated the situations directly to themselves
and questioned their future.
But they all came-one because her par-
ents refused to give financial support for her
planned travels; another because he saw
that he would need the degree if he expect-
ed to have a fulfilling job later (though he
disagreed with the emphasis attached to the
diploma); a third because she viewed a
university as the best way to gain self-
knowledge; the fourth because she was
curious about college and, likewise, recog-
nized she would need the education and the
degree if she went on to medical school.
Three of these persons were out-of-state,
reflecting a general pattern in the inter-
views: The out-of-state students were more
radical politically and socially, and seemed
to have questioned certain basic aspects of
America - like the stress on upward mo-
bility, capitalism and the subtle racial pre-
judices-before coming to school.

weekends and dorm raps, which involved
more "play."
And although they believed that these
informal discussions are valuable, their
main priority, at least during their fresh-
man year, is to attend classes and learn in
school. The impression one gets is that
going to class and taking notes at lectures
would guarantee an education and win them
a degree. A
But while the expectation of learning was
strong, most also expected their classes to
be boring, at least sometimes.
"You got to put up with something," says
Leslie who is from Detroit and plans to
become a doctor.
Staying in school, and doing well, assumes
primary importance to these freshmen, par-
ticularly those, like Leslie who have pro-
fessional careers in mind. They are here,
plan to learn, to play around and leave
somehow better than when they came.
T MOST IT will be a four-year process
with no breaks in between. The idea of
dropping out, of leaving school, involves
uncertain and unlikely possibilities right
now. They are just experiencing a major
change in their lives and an overwhelming
number find it difficult to conceive of en-
acting another one.
Ralph, who is also interested in medicine,
explains, "In high school I had some bor-
ing courses, and I had no thoughts of leav-
ing high school. I knew if you want to get
any place, I mean if I want to be a doctor,
there are certain institutions you have to
go through. I'll try to make the best of it
I can."
Ralph, who is from Oak Park, Mich., says
he definitely plans to go through in four
years and does not appear to have consider-
ed any alternatives. "If things got bad, I
mightstake summer school and finish early
because if it got that bad, I think if I left
it, I'd be tempted never to come back." And
this bothers him.
To Ralph and the overwhelming majority
of those interviewed, dropping out seems to
imply leaving for a while and perhaps never
returning. For them to leave, things would
have to be "bad," as Ralph says, and right
now-with the array of new experiences and
promise of an education-that is almost in-
conceivable and has, it seems, not occurred
to them seriously before.
As Sandra, from Mosher-Jordan Hall,
notes "I just wouldn't want to leave and I
know I really couldn't. I can't see things
getting that boring. I just can't imagine it
being that bad that I'd have to leave.
There's always just so much to do up here-
plays, movies and I haven't had a bad time
since I got here. Then again, my studies
mean enough to me. I think I've been con-
ditioned. I don't know. I have the desire to
learn-it's in me and I'm not really ex-
plaining it really well."
Her comments indicate the realization
that she "couldn't leave" because, as she
notes earlier in the interview, "just about
to do anything nowadays you need a college
degree." And since she is here, she sees
college as providing a good opportunity to
encounter new experiences, gain social ease
and meet all sorts of people.
THIS HODGEPODGE of experience the
students find exciting and some-notably
the more radical freshmen, who had ques-
tioned the concept of college before they
came-see it as a viable way of achieving
self-realization. The general awareness was
that such experiences and self-knowledge
would come best in college for, as Frances
says, "when I'm a doctor I won't have time."
But the reluctance to drop out stems not
only from the necessities and benefits that

college can offer but, in addition, the alter-
natives to school seem vague and uncertain.
"I just don't know what I'd do with my-
self," says Ralph.
Ralph adds that were he to leave the
University he would not travel or worg
around; rather he would think of transfer-
ing to another school. These "adventurous"
pursuits would await the completion of
college.
Of course the whole issue of dropping out,
to many students, was a hypothetical one.
They couldn't leave because of the draft, due
to previously-arranged scholarships or from
a financial or personal obligation to their
parents.
To some of the freshmen, the mention of
this obligation brought guilt. "They are
sacrificing something for you," explains
Ben, "and you are 18 and they could kick
you out of the house, and I'm not the nicest
guy to my parents, so that bothers me,
okay?"
Everyone said assuredly they got along
well with their parents, but alluded to mo-
ments of disagreement. In speaking about
the freedom he enjoys in school, Leslie said
"it's the absence of the hassling from my
parents. I don't say that to degrade my
parents because they're really nice people
. . . (But) they used to hassle me about
synagogue. Or if I didn't get home by 1,
my mother would wait for me and yell.
They'd insist I eat some more at meals and
I'd say no. They'd try to control what I'd
do."
FOR SOME, the disagreements with their
parents do not transcend such prudential
matters; and there is a near-even split
within the group over whether they also
object to the middle class life-style to which
their parents belong.
Yet among those who explictly criticized
material values, they were sometimes less
liberal on the similar, if more personal,
questions of pot, sex and religion. For ex-
ample, several condemned middle-class liv-
ing, but expressed emotional-though rarely
moral-fears about trying pot or having sex
before marriage. By and large, though, there
appeared to be a correlation between liberal
views on politics and on these personal
questions.
Some were oblivious to traditional cri-
ticisms of "middle class morality." To this
group, the mention of "suburban life style"
connotes nothing in particular except that
perhaps the people aren't as nice as in the
cities, as one girl put it.
But if one goes further and repeats the
query differently, the answer changes some-
what, indicating an uncertainty on the
whole issue. Ralph comments, after some
discussion, that he really doesn't know his
friends' parents but "you know, I guess,
yeah, if there is this widespread feeling to
pile money on top of money, then yeah
I guess that would be a problem." He refers
to the possibly material attitudes of other
parents, but not to his own. In fact, none
of the freshman spoke bitterly of their par-
ents, and said they got along well with their
family.
Marilyn, who is from Oak Park and lives
in the Residential College, was more em-
phatic about suburbia. She says "people are
not getting together. They're separate from
each other, they come from work, go to
their boxes and exchange very few words.
You go around in Oak Park in the evening
and it's terrible; you don't see anyone. One
night just for amusement I went through
the streets with a friend and we were honk-
ing the horn, yelling 'the war's over' and no
one got up, no one heard."
DESPITE THIS animosity to suburban liv-
ing, even the radical freshmen w e r e

"Staying in school and doing well assumes primary import-
ance to these freshmen, particularly those w i t h professional
careers in mind. They are here, plan to learn, play around,
and leave somehow better than when they came."
"' r5r.%r."}}:{titsti r.¢r.^.: { '"e'F..r F:S,:,v'w..w'. . .

iences and towards people with differing
political views.
THERE IS little indication that a radical
spirit has swept across the bulk of the
freshman class, little substantiation of media
reports of a radical rejection of society or
wide-scale disillusionment and alienation.
At this point in their college careers, our
freshmen in some ways conform to the
"traditional freshman," who supposedly
comes to college exclusively as training for
a profession, hopeful to gain a prestigious
career and a comfortable home in the sub-
urbs.
In their rationale for attending college,
and their reluctance to drop out and break
certain norms, the freshmen seem to merge
with this "traditional identity." But they
depart from this image in their wider poli-
tical awareness, their open-mindedness to
"objectionable practices" like pot or sex,
and their greater tolerance for people who
choose to, participate in these activities.
THE MOST striking area of agreement
was on the rationale for attending col-
lege.
"It's always been in my mind that I'd
go to college," says Ben, a science-oriented
freshman from Akron, Ohio. "I always was
pretty good in school and my parents both
went to college, and it just seems that for
everything I wanted to accomplish, college
was one of those steps."

Now that they are here, the freshmen
plan to stay. With the exception of a fairly
radical student from Buffalo, N.Y. everyone
looked on college as a new experience, as
a definite break between home and parental
protection, ultimately paving the way to
adulthood.
"When I got here," says Ben, "I realized
the big thing, I mean you don't have the
friends and that's going to be a big change,
and I guess that hit me more than every-
thing else. And I realized how much you're
on your own. I mean no parents and all,
and how that would make a difference. And
the time you have on your hands I hadn't
actually realized. But it hit me pretty hard."
MANY SEEMED uncertain just what to
expect from college, but as the first
week passed, they said, things improved.
Christine, a nursing student, spoke to her
mother during the first few days. "The first
thing I said was 'what am I going to do if
I don't want to stay?' She said you stay at
least a month. The second week I didn't
mind it." Now Christine says she enjoys
her dorm, Bursley, and is looking forward
to parties and classes as well.
Like Christine, most of the freshmen
anticipate learning a lot from their courses.
They find it almost implicit in attending a
university that they will be educated. But
except for the more radical freshmen, there
often seemed a feeling that learning was
like work and should be differentiated from

happy about their relationship with their
parents. If they criticized the parents' ma-
terial values, they did so with understand-
ing of their economic background, and sym-
pathy. But they could conceive of circum-
stances in which there would be a serious
chasm between their parents and them-
selves.
Such were the issues of smoking pot and
pre-marital sex or of living with someone
before marriage. Nearly everyone said their
parents would object to their partaking in
these activities, though the predictedi re-
sponse of parents ranged from disappoint-
ment to disinheritance.
About two-thirds of these freshmen have
not and do not plan to smoke pot, though
they might favor its legalization, or see
nothing wrong with other people using it.
Most of those who oppose it personally
fear possibly harmful effects on their mind
or worry about getting caught. They. feel'
they have no need for marijuana.
Of the students who had tried drugs
before school, only one went higher than
grass or hash, trying acid and speed.
On sexual questions, views were more
vehement and diffuse, but there was unan-
imity over the prospect of getting married
eventually. Most took marriage for grant-
ed and when asked why, the reply of com-
panionship was generally given. Only sev-
eral explicitly mentioned love.
As for premarital sexual activity, 16
either disapproved of it or were quite un-
certain - either for "moral" reasons, emo-
tional inhibitions or both. Some were torn
between an intellectual questioning of the
idea of intercourse following marriage, but
were unable to divorce themselves from their
emotions.
"Right now," says Ben, "I wouldn't be
able to overcome all the hangups about
sex, all the rules I have now. Usually you
worry a little about the physical arrange-
ments of the future - I guess you don't
have to worry about kids anymore. There
is a little bit to worry about with kids. You
know now, I guess I've been brought up
with all these religions, all this eternal love
you're going to have."
Among the minority favoring pre-marital
sex, marriage was viewed as a ritual or a
sham, irrelevant to basic trust and love.
And such an involving relationship seemed
to be the pre-requisite for sexual inter-
course.
"If I tell my parents I'm not getting leg-
ally married, they'd say 'fine, that's nice,
they wouldn't believe I'd do it," says Mar-
ilyn.
"All I'd have to do is marry a non-Jewish
boy and they'd consider me dead. In their
eyes, dead, completely dishonored. You have
no idea what a traumatic experience that
would be, especially to my father. He would
disown me, he would never speak to me
again, he would consider me dead. They
would sit shivah."
While Marilyn's problem about religion
may seem a bit severe to the other freshmen
interviewed, it does point to the religious
divergence between these students and their
parents.
In oractically every instance, the student

have to remind myself of keeping koshe-
reth, does it make me a better person? I
have some doubts sometimes, but I do
it."
CHRISTINE, who attended parochial
school until seventh grade, says "I
think it's necessary togo to church. Once
you go to church, it's not so bad. -Once I'm
there what the preacher says makes a lot
of sense. I realy feel good after church, it
makes me .feel good." In addition, she oc-
casionally feels guilty when she doesn't at-
tend.
"I think everybody should have a belief
to base their lives on," she adds. "I feel you
have to make your own decisions but I pray
to Him that you'll make the best one. It
makes me feel better. I feel surer that my
decision is the best."
Christine's belief in God was echoed by
about half of the freshmen, who had some
notion that a Divine Being gave order to
things. This was less the case among the
seven who don't consider themselves relig-
ious (all but one of whom had Jewish
backgrounds).. But this group's belief in
God did not carry over any hope to solving
the problems which face the country.
None spoke of joining a Movement, and
all criticized the oft-violent tactics of the
New Left. The more politically-aware fresh-
men saw change coming from the small
things they could do as individuals to im-
prove people's lives.
There was a near-even split on withdraw-
al from Vietnam. The more radical favor
withdrawal on the grounds that the United
States is wrongly imposing its values on
another nation. The others, generally more
uncertain, fear a communist threat or if they
think the war is mistaken, believe the U.S.
should strive for an "honorable peace."
But beyond the war, this second group
seems hard-pressed to name problems in the
country. "Ecology, race; what else is there?"
one student asks..
To the more "aware" freshmen, there is
much more that is wrong with the country.
They cited material conditions, nuclear dis-
armament, sexual and racial oppression and
some mentioned capitalism, but only vague-
ly.
WHILE EXPRESSING a concern for the
problems in the country, none but the
two black students said they cared intense-
ly enough to spend much of their lives work-
ing for change.
The future is an unknown too for the
bulk of these freshmen. Just as they found
it difficult to envision droping out, so
too is it hard for them to itemize post-grad-
uation plans. Even those with tentative
plans-like nursing, medicine or social work
-seem quick to acknowledge the possibil-
ity things may change.
None in the group had any fear of
their lives after graduation, sensing a con-
tinuity between college and adulthood.
There was, a feeling on the part of many
not to settle down immediately, to travel
and explore. This applies to nine of 'the 12
women interviewed, who, regardless of their
varying political views, found the life of the
homemaking stultifying and wanted to

41

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