Has College Become Dangerous for Students?

Is alcohol abuse, sexual assaults, and cheating the new normal for college?

Posted Jan 21, 2015

A great deal of press attention has focused on the problematic and often unethical behavior of college students in recent years. Campus sexual assaults, excessive drinking, and academic cheating scandals have been headline news impacting even our nation’s most elite universities.  A major cheating scandal was exposed at Harvard University, problems with sexual assault have been highlighted at Stanford University, and the entire Greek system of fraternities at the University of Virginia was recently shut down (then reopened) over sexual assault reports.

Sadly, it appears that in addition to their academic coursework, college life has become a breeding ground for learning very bad behavior as it relates to alcohol and drug abuse, sexual behavior, and cheating. It begs the question, is college a place to learn how to be a better person or perhaps not?

College is certainly an important time of life for not only academic training and career planning but also for socialization and the development of life long coping skills. Typically, it is the first time young adults have been on their own to make important lifestyle decisions for themselves without the daily supervision and influence of their parents. The transition from high school to college and then to adult life is a critically important time to fine tune habits of the mind as well as general habits of life. It is also a time when ethical formation becomes critically important too.

College students must learn to manage and control their impulses and desires in an appropriate and sustainable manner which is especially challenging since too many students seem to have a vision of college as a time to enjoy themselves, drink excessively, and engage in sexual hookups. Popular movies, such as Animal House, further contribute to this expectation.

Parents worry about the safety and security of their children when they send them off to college and sadly, experience great stress about the odds that their child might get raped on campus or get severely hurt from excessive alcohol abuse. Drinking games, such as beer pong, have become popular on campuses and only increase both parent stress and student expectations that binge drinking is expected at college.

While there are no simple answers, efforts must be made by university officials, faculty, staff, parents, students, law enforcement, among others to offer a full court press in ethical development as well as develop higher expectations for (and appropriate consequences for) behavior in college. 

Here at Santa Clara University, all students, regardless of major, must take a full term class in ethics and are encouraged to take much more. One or more classes in ethics won't solve these problems but at least it is a step in the right direction to ensure that all students reflect on their behavior and develop ethical ways of living. 

How do you think these issues can best be addressed? Any good ideas?

What do you think?

Check out my web site at www.scu.edu/tplante and follow me on twitter @thomasPlante

Copyright 2015, Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP