College Student Life

Understanding the experiences of today’s college students and their parents

Hook-Up and Alcohol Cultures

Are the "Do It Because It Feels Good" & "Drink to Get Drunk" cultures dominant?

Many of my colleagues and friends have heard me raise concerns about what appear to be some prevailing trends in today's college student culture. Over the past two weeks, some of the conversations and interactions I have had with students have reinforced these concerns as has a column from one of today's newspapers.

The first concern is that I see a very strong "Hook-Up Culture" where students engage in all kinds of sexual activity (groping, grinding, oral sex, and intercourse) simply because it feels good. There is seldom any romantic love connected with such acts. In fact, in today's (12/10/2012) column ("The Parent'Hood" by Heidi Stevens of the Chicago Tribune, reprinted in The Roanoke Times), Harvard psychologist John Chirban coments that middle school students are sometimes viewing pornography and "looking at sexuality devoid of intimacy and devoid of love. Parents need to help their children connect sex with intimacy and love. If they're learning about sex in this mechanical. physical perspective that's just about fantasies, it removes them from the ability to have social and relational and loving skills." I worry, too, that some of this separation of sex from romantic liking and love is connected to today's Generation Tech (Millennials) who have become so immersed in technology that they often have difficulty with face-to-face, verbal and non-verbal interactions. Thus, the more traditional, gradual introduction of sexual actiivity into a romantic relationship is replaced by the sudden hook-up, the one night stand or even the convenient FWB (friends with benefits).

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The second concern I have is the "Alcohol Culture" which I perceive has gradually developed since the legal drinking age was raised to 21. When I look back at the period of time when some of us were in college and the legal age was 18, most students had learned to drink responsibly at home before even coming to college. As a result, it was the exception to find someone whose drinking had resulted in their passing out, being transported to the Emergency Room, falling off a roof, etc. When that occasionally happened, others would tend to look at the person and muse "what's wrong with you?" Today, most students do not learn to drink responsibly before coming to college and our laws do not permit them to drink legally until they are 21. As a result, alcohol consumption is "the thing to get away with" and many students drink irresponsibly with a motivation to "drink to get drunk." I sense from conversations with students and others that the peer pressure here is so strong that if one does not engage in such high risk drinking, he/she is looked at by their peers with an attitude of "what's wrong with you?," i.e., "why aren't you drinking like we are drinking?". Supporting this are the various studies of alcohol use, misuse, and abuse around the country which tend to show that 40-50% of our students are engaging in high risk drinking on a regular basis.

The combination of a "Hook-Up Culture" and an "Alcohol Culture" is, in my opinion, a terribly negative one that dramatically interferes with positive student and human development. So, let me invite some dialog: have these cultures become the dominant ones? If so, what are the various causes and what are the possible solutions?

 

Edward F. D. Spencer, Vice President Emeritus for Student Affairs at Virginia Tech, retired after a 42-year career in administration and teaching at Virginia Tech and the University of Delaware.

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