Hooked on Hooking Up
Although admitting that “many students will thrive in their four years on campus… with dignity and sense of self intact,” Mary Eberstadt offers reason for concern about the social climate on American campuses:
In 2006, a particularly informative (if also exquisitely depressing) contribution to understanding hookups was made by Unprotected, a book first published anonymously. The author was subsequently revealed to be Miriam Grossman, a psychiatrist who treated more than 2000 students at UCLA and grew alarmed by what she saw. In her book she cites numbers suggesting that psychiatric-consultation hours doubled in a few years and notes that 90 percent of campus counseling centers nationwide reported an upsurge in students with serious psychiatric problems. She also describes some of her own mental-health cases and their common denominators: drinking to oblivion, drugging, one-night sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and all the rest of the hookup-culture trappings. In 2007, Washington Post journalist Laura Sessions Stepp published the widely discussed Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both. Stepp’s book was based on interviews with many high-school and college girls. In it, the author argued that hooking up actually had become the “primary” sexual interaction of the young.
One particularly insightful look at the intersection of the bingeing and hookup cultures is Koren Zaickas’ book Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood (2006), in which she details her activities at Syracuse University and elsewhere. As that and several other confessional accounts show, skeptics who say it was ever thus miss the boat. It isn’t only that dating has turned, for some, into no-strings hookups. It isn’t only that drinking, or even heavy drinking, has turned, for certain others, into drinking to oblivion. It is at the intersection of those two trends that one finds the core curriculum of Toxic U.
I’d argue that one contributing factor to this trend (beyond general cultural deterioration, of course) has been the popularity of movies since the ’70s — many of them undeniable comedy classics — that present recklessness as the natural college atmosphere. Another is the advance of ’60s radicals into the establishment of higher education, from which perch they’ve fostered an image of college as the taste of liberty that a socialistic utopia could provide for all. Thirdly, as an outgrowth of number 2, has been the broad institutional acceptance of pornography as a campus staple. Eberstadt writes:
Student entrepreneurship aside, making the campus safe for smut appears to have become something of a cottage industry among those in charge too. Certain academic departments, for example, include courses in which pornography is “studied” as an art form or for its purported social meaning. There is extracurricular stuff too, including movies shown at parties attended by girls as well as boys – another illustration of how times have changed. Sometimes, in the name of the First Amendment, more ambitious projects flower. In 2009, for example, several campuses across the country screened Pirates II, which was billed as the most expensive pornographic film ever made. When the University of Maryland refused to do so because of political pressure from a congressman, student outrage was one visible result.
This is hardly an atmosphere in which American students can be expected to catch up on the remedial lessons that didn’t take in public secondary school and to focus as they must on the decades of life that their few years of higher education will affect profoundly.