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10 Things Your College Student Won’t Tell You at Duke

20 Mar

SmartMoney magazine, The Wall Street Journal Magazine of Personal Business, has been around since 1992. It has a recurring “10 Things” feature that covers all kinds of things—including “10 Things Your Spouse Won’t Tell You,” “10 Things Emergency Rooms Won’t Tell You,” and the one that is of interest to us—“10 Things Your College Student Won’t Tell You.” Here is the top there:

1. “Sure, I’ve cheated. Who hasn’t?”

According to SmartMoney’s Kristin Kovner, 70% of students now admit to cheating with unsourced material from the Internet quadrupling between 2000 and 2006. However, that’s not what is most disturbing. Kovner says 77% of students don’t consider it a “very serious” problem. She also cites mobile devices as a reason the problem has intensified.

Indeed, this last year Duke had a very serious incident of mass cheating. A “handful” of Chemistry 31 introductory class “Core Concepts in Chemistry,” acquired a copy of an exam given in an earlier period and looked up the answers before taking the test during their designated slot. The professors became aware of the issue after some students reported rumors. Stephan Bryan, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Conduct, offered a reduced punishment for those who turned in, while those who didn’t and were found guilty were suspended.

2. “’Studying abroad” is one big party.”

2006 was designated the “Year of Study Abroad” by Congress because according to Jessica Townsend, former program manager at the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship, “[They] want the next generation of adults to be in touch with their national and global citizenship.”

However, study abroad programs are not always viewed that way. Instead, they are often seen as easy classes in places where drinking is legal for those who would have otherwise been underage in the United States. A 2005 Chronicle article titled “Study abroad programs offer culture, easy classes,“ explores this very topic. Many students quoted in the article describe their study abroad experience as a “GPA booster.”

In defense of the programs, Margaret Riley, director of study abroad, told the Chronicle:

“There’s a different approach to the presentation of the materials abroad, and this is viewed by students as being simpler, but it’s not. They’re being held responsible for learning that material rather than having their professors guide them through the process and continually assess their work.”

3. “I’d stay here forever if you’d pay for it.”

According to Kovner, at the time the article was written, 53% of students in a standard undergraduate program get their bachelor’s degree within five years. At a costly private institution like Duke, how many students come back for a “victory lap”? A simple search in The Chronicle article gave many results about athletes staying for a fifth year and one lone column discussing the extenuating circumstances that led to him coming back and the challenges he faced for being a fifth year senior at Duke where isn’t common, unlike other schools.

Check back later this week when I go over 4-6 on the list: “College life can be hazardous to my health,” “My resume isn’t the only thing I have posted on the Internet,” and “Just because I was a straight arrow in high school doesn’t mean I will be in college.”

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Party Tunes

15 Feb

This alcohol fueled image of college students transcends beyond film and into music. One song jumps into my head as the college anthem of the recent years, “I Love College” by Asher Roth. I remember this song being played over and over again my sophomore year.

This first single released by Roth is a song about the college parties that he attended while at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. Set at a fraternity party, the music video has appearances by the famed Solo cup I discussed a couple days ago being used for binge drinking, hook-ups, marijuana, strip poker, and beer pong.

Although I’ve seen and heard about a lot of what was mentioned in the catchy song, the music video takes it to an extreme. A commenter from YouTube even mentions his excitement to attend such a crazy parties once he gets to college. My experience and those of my friends is limited, so I have to ask—have any of you gone to a party worth writing a song about or does this music video play into the stereotype of college?

Solo Cups

13 Feb

Solo cup
The trademark Solo cup has become a universal college signal for alcohol. It is usually a dead giveaway for the contents within it. My freshman year in college that Solo cup almost got me into a lot of trouble.

I went out with a couple of friends to a party off-campus. I was in the mood to go out and have fun, but not for drinking. I was enjoying the music and the people, but not the beer. After sipping on less then a fifth of a can of beer over the course of an hour and a half, I gave up hating every drop of Busch Lite that hit my tongue.

I was, however, determined not to stand out so I headed to the kitchen to get a Solo cup filled with anything not alcoholic. I opted for some fruit punch. A couple minutes later, we headed out to another party. I would regret not leaving my Solo cup.

We pulled up to an off-campus house literally two minutes away from the East Campus walls and one of my friends decided that he couldn’t hold it and had to go in some bushes before going into the house. For the life of me I still don’t understand why he couldn’t wait until we got inside, but within a couple of minutes, unluckily some cops drove by and stopped right were we were standing.

They had been looking to bust a party a street down, but had stumbled upon some very guilty looking freshman.

A female cop walked up to me and my other friend, looking me up and down, Solo cup trembling in my hand, while the other male cop approached my friend in the bushes across the street. Quickly, the female cop let my other friend go, he looked perfectly sober and didn’t have a cup in hand. But I did. Immediately the cop thought that I was drinking a mixed drink.

Naively I held the cup up to her, “I swear it is just fruit punch. Go ahead and taste,” I said.

They threatened to write my friend up for indecent exposure and me for underage drinking. Those thirty minutes that I waited for them to get some kind of contraption to test the alcohol content in my drink were some of the most torturous of my entire life. What would my parents say? How mad would they be? Would they believe that there was no alcohol in my Solo cup?

Eventually, I was let go, but I’ve hated Solo cups since. But it is true. In every movie, television show, music video or Facebook picture—the Solo cup=alcohol. Why is that?

Lovable Drunks

6 Feb

“Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”
-Dean Wormer

Pull up any top 10 list of best college movies and National Lampoon’s Animal House is likely to top the list. The tale of a group of misfit guys in the Delta Tau Chi fraternity was the first movie produced by the National Lampoon, the popular humor magazine on college campuses in the mid-1970s. The writers of the magazine were recent college graduates themselves, which probably explained the renegade tone that popularized the publication. Together, Doug Kenney (a Harvard grad), Chris Miller (from Dartmouth College), and Harold Ramis (Washington University), wrote the college movie of all college movies.

Along with director John Landis, they created a film that combined sex, alcohol, vulgarity, rebellion, profanity, and slapstick into a hilariously revolutionary package. Set in the 1960s, the Deltas entertained as they tried to evade the wrath of Faber College’s Dean Wormer who has them on “double secret probation” because of their less than stellar grades and numerous behavioral violations. They fight back as Dean Wormer and the Omegas attempt to kick them off of campus; they fight with toga parties and besieging a parade.

The question then is—how accurate is it?

The Deltas thrive on partying above all else, as is fortified by the opening scene of their infamous toga party where a keg is tossed out the window, further damaging their dilapidated house.  Inspired by their own fraternity experiences, Kenney, Miller, and Ramis penned characters like John “Bluto” Blutarsky who have become idols of past, present, and future fraternity brothers everywhere.

“Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the fucking Peace Corps.” -Bluto

While I re-watched the movie to write up this post, my friend sat next to me eagerly pointing out whom each character in the film embodied in his own fraternity and I found myself nodding in agreement. This widely successful low-budget movie has inspired a slew of clones, in film and in real life, which is no surprise. Whether it is putting a horse in their Dean’s office, showing up at a club to suddenly find themselves a minority, or at a probation hearing—the Deltas always look like they’re having fun and what college student doesn’t want to have fun?

Photo credit: Michael Naclerio/The Chronicle

But recently, Duke students have been catching a lot of slack for having too much fun.

Now, as an independent, I can’t claim to be any kind of expert on Duke’s Greek life, but as a journalist I have come across some striking similarities to Animal House and Duke. You, may or may not, recall news of the cancellation of Duke “tailgate” after a minor was found passed out in a Port-a-Potty, which caused widespread outrage. Not for the safety of the child, but the end of tailgate.

Jamie, a commenter on The Chronicle’s website wrote, “Our commitment to Tailgate during that contemporary “athletic program” is not the slightest bit embarrassing, it is a testament to the perseverance of our school spirit…and our mutual appreciation of beer and “Shout.”

You may remember a certain performance of “Shout” by Otis Day and the Knights in which Faber College students went wild.

“Duke, this will blow up in your faces,” said tailgatelives, another commenter. “Do you have any idea what portion of your students love tailgate? All it takes is for one news truck to get wind of this that it won’t be sequestered in the Blue Zone and—guess what—now you have another PR crisis. Just what you need. How out of touch are you all?”

Sound familiarly like Bluto’s defiant speech against the administration?

In the end, however, the Animal House guys are still viewed as lovable drunks and rebels and Duke unfortunately hasn’t had the same luck. Why is that the case?

The Birth of CineCollege

31 Jan

The antics of young college students seem to have become one of the favorite subjects of Hollywood filmmakers. The films seek to entertain with images of alcohol-fueled parties full of horny, archetypal college students. Animal House, the quintessential college movie spurred a long line of college movies that have since perpetuated this stereotypical image of college life. But, are these portrayals reflective of reality?

Usually, the answer to this question would not be too difficult for me to come to. It seems logical to deduce that because movies are meant to keep you engaged, that the college life on screen is a hyperbole of the real world. After all, it wouldn’t be terribly entertaining to watch a student studying in a dorm room or in a lecture hall, right? So, it makes sense that these crazed images of college students are a result of what fills the most seats or sells the most DVDs. However, with the recent viralization of a certain Duke alumna’s “thesis” the world and media gripped tightly onto a shred of the real college life.

Karen Owen chronicled her sexual escapades with various Duke athletes and then ranked their performance in a Powerpoint, which she modeled as a senior honors thesis—“An education beyond the classroom: excelling in the realm of horizontal academics”. She only sent the presentation to a few close friends, but before long the thesis was spreading all over the Internet. The now infamous Owen seems like she could have fit right into the plot of any college movie. Many media outlets certainly began questioning what was going on after class at Duke University, putting it on the map yet again after the Lacrosse scandal.

This brings me to the creation of this blog. The portrayal of college students in the media, specifically in film, has become a subject of great interest to me. Sure, often the characters within the typical college movie fall into distinct, often predictable categories, but if there is anything that I took from the whole Karen Owen debacle is that the issue is much more complex than I originally thought.

I will go through typical college flicks, old and new, and dissect how and why students are portrayed committing such debauchery. Why is the media so compelled by these images? Where did the inspiration for these characters come from? How are colleges and their inhabitants depicted differently as time transpires? And most importantly, to me, how does Duke fit into all of this?

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