- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

College life might have appeared wild in the 1978 movie “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” but even fictional Bluto and his food-fighting fraternity brothers couldn’t have imagined the coed bathrooms, “hookup” sex and regular keggers of today.

Many students accept such activities as part of college life, but others find them taboo.

How can a student maintain strong moral values in college? Go in with confidence and stay close to like-minded people, say parents and students.

And insist on cream sodas at parties, says Lesley C. Long, a senior at the Pennsylvania State University and a longtime Best Friends girl.

“I’m a virgin, and I don’t smoke, don’t drink, never have, never will,” said Miss Long, who has been with the Best Friends character-and-abstinence program since she was in Amidon Elementary School in Southwest Washington.

Best Friends taught her how to handle situations with drugs, smoking, drinking and boys, she said, and it prepared her for college. “My friends would have parties and they would go get alcohol, but they knew they always had to get me cream soda. They’d say, ‘We have to get cream soda for Les.’”

“You have to be sure about yourself,” said a Muslim sophomore from Bowie who asked that neither he nor his engineering university be named.

As a Muslim, he does not drink, which puts him out of step with dorm life, where drinking is at “a whole new level.”

Still, avoiding booze has been easier than avoiding entanglements with women, which he also must do, the young man said.

Men and women walk around half-naked in the dorms, and “I see sex all around,” he said. As a result, he goes daily to a nearby mosque, where he can participate in religious studies, eat with other Muslim men and stay focused on his education.

While college life has long been associated with reckless youth, its free-wheeling party image has become more entrenched in recent years.

“Many incoming students have visions of ‘Animal House’ in their heads when they think of college, idealizing the parties and believing that high-risk drinking should be a part of the overall college experience,” William DeJong and Josephine Crisostomo, of the Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, said last month.

College alcohol abuse “has been declared a major public health problem,” he said. Alcohol-prevention professionals must continue to fight “to undo the damage the movie has already done.”

Dorm life has evolved into a blending of the sexes, from coed buildings to coed floors, coed bathrooms and now even coed rooms.

“What’s next? Orgy rooms? Menage a trois rooms?” asked Christine O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Del., which publishes a college guide.

All this coedness is outside normal life, said Miss O’Donnell. “Most average American adults don’t use coed bathrooms — if they had the option of a coed bathroom at a public restaurant, they wouldn’t choose it.” Coedness “is like a radical agenda forced on college students,” she said.

Regardless of who is in the rooms, hooking up — or sex without commitment — remains common on campuses, said Kristen Richardson of the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), which in 2001 issued a report on college dating and mating.

An IWF report on Capitol Hill interns, released this summer, suggests that change is under way. “We found that traditional dating is slowly but surely making a comeback in a way,” Miss Richardson said.

Freshmen girls are at the center of the hookup culture and they are key to changing it, said Laura Ferrell, a senior at Dartmouth College who has interned with IWF this summer.

“When you move past your freshman year, you realize you can have real relationships,” she said. Dating is reappearing, she added, because more girls are insisting on it. “Once you’ve started dating, I don’t think people revert quite as quickly to hooking up.”

Many students with strong moral values choose a college that shares those values. Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., for instance, appeals to many Christian home-schooling families.

The college offers excellent academics and “we also believe campus life ought to be focused on a virtuous life,” said Paul Bonicelli, dean of academic affairs.

But not every religiously committed young person can or wants to go to a religious college.

Susan Leftwich of Crofton said she and her son are dedicated Mormons, which has caused social conflicts at the military college he attends.

“My son chose the college because of its honor code,” she said. But he soon found that many students would “drink to oblivion” and challenged him when he wouldn’t go along with them.

The son, who could not be reached for an interview, stuck to his values, went to church on Sundays and spent free time with local Mormon families who supported his beliefs, said Mrs. Leftwich. After four years, she added, he is widely respected. “You have to step out there and whatever comes your way, that’s what you’ve got to deal with.”

Orthodox Jewish students, who also face challenges on secular campuses, are benefiting from a new program that has placed young rabbinical married couples on seven campuses to serve as mentors and role models.

“College education has a very high value from the perspective of our community and we want our kids to get the best education possible, but we don’t want them to suffer spiritually in the process,” said Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

In the end, students have to be personally responsible, said Janelle Plummer, another Best Friends graduate who is maintaining a Christian lifestyle while attending a Virginia community college.

“You’re an adult now. Your parents aren’t there and you have to make choices and decisions on your own. And every choice has a consequence that follows and now it’s up to you to say, ‘I’m going to do that and I’m not going to do that,’” she said.

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