College Admissions (and Sex)

So, have you heard about the new campus sex policy at Tufts University?

The CNN website explains it this way: “A new policy at Tufts University prohibits students in dorms from having sex while their roommate is in the room…. The Massachusetts university’s formal rule also bars so-called ‘sexiling’ — exiling a roommate from the room so the other roommate can engage in sexual activity.”

On one hand, I suppose it’s a logical extension of the invasive helicopter parenting that today’s college kids have known their whole lives. Risk has been pushed to the back-burner in favor of a paint-by-numbers illusion of achievement and path to success. Sensing a void in the capabilities of their students to exercise their executive function, it’s not hard to see why the colleges have re-stoked the fires of en loco parentis.

But that doesn’t make it right.

In her book, A Nation of Wimps, Hara Estroff hits the problem:

“Overparenting isn’t just bad for individual kids, weakening them from within and rendering them psychologically fragile; it’s bad for the country as well. A generation that has been led to prefer the safety of certainty to the possibility of failure inherent in risk-taking not only makes comfort its highest virtue; it imperils the future of the economy that sustains us all. Further, the growing inability of the young to exercise autonomy and make decisions on their own threatens democracy itself.” (p. 243)

As some consolation, Tufts passes the human decency test. It is indeed rude to have sex in your room with your roommate present and selfish to sexile him/her. However, the policy is either an insult to its students’ ability to conduct their own affairs or a sad commentary on same.

Before I rant on, let me offer a disclaimer: some of my good friends are Jumbos. My concerns are not focused on Tufts so much as the vast group of the most selective schools.

As the father of two children fully versed in the ordeal of college application anguish and as an educator who has been writing college recommendations for more than three decades, the whole thing has me scratching my head. On one hand, the students currently enrolled at Tufts and schools of its ilk are the products of the most competitive admissions climate in U.S. history. These kids have been hand-picked and they and their parents have been told so. (Heck, even the kids who were rejected have received warm letters informing them of how special they are.) So, I mean, they lack the capability to conduct their own sexual affairs? Huh?

If the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ then one of two things is true – either the admissions offices are misreading their own criteria for admission OR the colleges have put all their stock in a false criteria. I believe the latter to be true.

During my career, a particular scene has replayed itself too many times. I am writing a recommendation for “Johnny,” a teenager who is a top citizen, leader, and an emerging student. He might have stumbled (academically or behaviorally) in his early high school years but he’s a “world beater.” I’m urging the college to consider his academic and social comeback as a real plus, as proof of the kid’s ability to take risks, learn from mistakes, dust himself off, and move on.

Johnny gets rejected. Meanwhile, one of his classmates, one with high test scores and no blemishes on his GPA or conduct history, gets accepted. As I see it, we know something for sure about Johnny (i.e., his ability to make a comeback) that we might only guess about with his counterpart. I am certain of only one thing: the most selective colleges don’t see it that way. (And although they might protest, let’s just say that their actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what they say.)

Another recurring scene: At conferences, I have sat in on college admissions workshops where an admissions officer is answering the question that all present want answered: What are you looking for in making your decision? They invariably say the same thing, “We place our primary value on the rigor of a student’s course work – the more challenging, the better.” (These folks absolutely have to be attending their own carefully designed conferences!) Meanwhile, we secondary school educators dutifully take notes and dream up ways to prepare our students to give them what they want.

I guess I feel an emerging surge of militancy. Why should we give them what they want? They’re wrong and it’s got to stop somewhere. If we stop dancing to the music, maybe they’ll change the tune.