Animal House revisited
He may not have as many tattoos as Tommy Lee, but like the aging rocker, former Time magazine correspondent Barrett Seaman also decided to go back to school recently, almost 40 years after graduating from Hamilton College. Seaman spent two weeks each at a dozen selective collegesincluding Harvard, Stanford, Middlebury, University of Virginia, University of Wisconsin, and his own alma materliving in the dorms, staying up into the wee hours with undergrads, and seeing for himself how their college experiences differed from his own. Some of his findings, which appear in his new book Binge: What Your College Student Won't Tell You (John Wiley & Sons, $25.95), are amusingly familiar: Yep, students still stay up late, streak across the Quad, and revel in what they view as their irrevocable license to let off steam. Drinking, sex, and drugs are ever present. But there's more of it all than Seaman expecteda lot more. And after spending so much time on campus recently, he has some provocative ideas for how to make college a little more like the good old days. Seaman spoke recently with U.S. News senior editor Justin Ewers.
Q: What made you go back to college?
A: I've been a trustee at Hamilton for the past 16 years and I've chaired the student affairs committee on the board, so I was looking at student life through that one particular prism. The first thing I wanted to do was go up and spend two weeks living with the students at Hamilton, so I could really understand it from their perspective. That was the eye-opener. It was kind of like being allowed to fly around the dark side of the moon. What I found was a pretty universal culture. It didn't matter whether it was rural Middlebury College or urbane Berkeley or Harvardthe student culture was pretty much the same.
Q: That culture, according to your book, seems to be saturated with booze and marked by a disconnect between faculty and students. Is it really that different from your experience in college in the '60s?
A: Yes, absolutely. We had our excesses, God knows. We drank a lot. I was in a fraternity, and those house party weekends we thought were pretty raucous affairs . . . we were really stupid about drinking and driving. But when I was in college only one student went to the hospital for alcohol poisoning in my entire four years. At Middlebury, in the 2002-2003 school year, 100 kids did. At Dartmouth, 200 did. Harvard in one month in October 2003, sent 44 students to the health center. It's an extraordinarily routine event, and it scares the bejesus out of administrators. They would say pretty openly, "You know, every night I go to bed and pray that when I wake up there isn't some kid dead." It's a recipe for disaster. The relationship between alcohol and date rape is just there: I think statistically, well over 90 percent of the date rapes involve alcohol, and most of the time it's when both parties are drunk.