Friday, May 19, 2006

Centre as a Level 3 Family, Part Two

By guest bloggers Amanda Nall and Teather Sanders from the Family Life class
(Part two of two)

One would think that because upperclass men live near the freshmen women and upperclass women live near the freshman men that interaction may occur between these groups. However, both male and female upperclassmen have already been socialized through their Greek affiliation and Centre’s other level 3 roles they must conform to, so interaction seldom occurs between these groups, although we must admit it is more probable for interaction to occur between these groups than between men and women from the same class. Upperclassmen, both male and female, tend to stick to their own gender, groups they have been socialized with since day one. After a year or more in the system, upperclassmen know their roles and hesitate to deviate from them, never knowing what might occur if they did.

The divided gender interactions may also occur because of Greek affiliations. Although becoming Greek is a valuable experience that many students enjoy, it may create tension and boundaries between the sexes. Members of Greek affiliations are encouraged to sit together and socialize together. Drinking and other social events, whether official parties or unofficial “get-togethers,” are held within each Greek organization, but never with several organizations combined.

As a level 3 rule-bound family, Centre has established rules regarding intimacy between members of the opposite sex as well. The rule is that there is to be no intimacy unless you can blame it on alcohol, which therefore creates an escape and banishes the rules for the night. Once the next morning arrives, however, the rules are immediately snapped back into place and everyone acts as though intimacy never existed. This creates a sense of awkwardness when the couple passes each other soberly the next week or so and must act as though they do not know each other. The only exception to this is when, miraculously, a relationship does blossom, usually from such an encounter that eventually leads to something more. In this situation, the relationship must be hidden from everyone, including friends, until it is officially serious, usually marked by the changing of “facebook relationship status.” If this rule is not followed, many unwanted questions and rumors will abound.

After interviews with current freshmen, we concluded that the rules are learned and imposed from the very beginning, starting with orientation. Boys and girls are segregated from the very beginning: boys live in Nevin and girls live on North side (with two blocks separating them). Although hall events during orientation may include a co-ed “mixer” or two, these events always take place at night. This teaches the new students that appropriate interaction with the opposite sex occurs at night during parties, never during the day. Intentional interactions taking place in Cowan or elsewhere on campus during orientation may lessen the tension that occurs between the sexes in the dining hall or at Centre in general. If we started sitting together and speaking with each other from day one, we may be more likely to continue this habit.

On the other hand, the absence of such a structure, just as the absence of rules in the level 3 rule-bound family, would inevitably lead to a state of chaos and despair unless a more mature, optimal level of functioning can somehow develop. According to, “the absence of structure itself invariably will lead the family further down the spiral of despair, dysfunction, disease, and delinquency.” This would undoubtedly only serve to bring more problems to Centre. As the parents in a traditional family must set the rules and the standards by which others follow, the upperclassmen at Centre must set the standards for its incoming classes. Unless these roles can somehow be changed and a higher functioning social structure can be created, Centre College must continue having such unwritten rules for each of its students to follow.


SeanH said...

Pardon - can you explain "Greek affiliation"?

Gruntled said...

About two-thirds of Centre students belong to fraternities or sororities, which are named with Greek letters. Most American colleges have them, and "Greeks vs. independents" is often a significant social distinction. At Centre, unlike most colleges, the Greek houses are designed to house only the officers, rather than a significant portion of the membership, so meal time has become the major gathering time for the social group.

Centre's dining pattern is still pretty weird, in my opinion.

C. Patton said...

Do we really believe that removing this structure will result in a downward spiral of chaos? Awkwardness may result, yes, but no more so than what is already purported to be experienced by the disavowal of intimacy and relationships.
I'm also extremely intrigued that something like "facebook status" has already ingrained itself into our social interactions, especially when one considers that Centre students were only able to join that online collective this past fall. Now that such an “invisible hand” has found it’s representation in a digital counterpart (there are several Centre facebook groups extolling the virtues and vices of Cowan seating arrangements), will freshman be indoctrinated before they ever even arrive? Are we now stuck forever in this ritual de lo habitual? Or can we change for the better?

amandakei said...

I believe that with or without facebook, incoming freshmen are faced with these patterns and traditions from the moment they arrive at Centre, if not from hearing stories beforehand. These students will undoubtedly, as always, become accustomed to such rituals, and will follow them in an attempt to fit in. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to remove such patterns and structures that are so ingrained into the every day life of Centre students.

Victoria Crowell said...

Well, technically incoming freshman (that would be me!) are already being indoctrinated with the idea, since I just read it.

Though I must say, I believe that is thoroughly weird. I come from a high school of 120 students, but rather than being stratified it meant that I hung out with everyone, not just one gender.

So, I'm already going to be subscribing myself to the Wingnut category. I can't imagine not having excellent conversation with interesting people of all genders.

Moreover, I think it is interesting that it didn't happen at GSP this summer at Centre, however, because often GSP tends to follow any known traditions on campus, like kids playing with a dress-up box. So, it definitely shows it's possible, it's just you fine folks are weird. (Now we'll see if I eat my words a few years from now.)

Gruntled said...

The real test will come if you join a sorority.

Victoria Crowell said...

Yes, hence the eating my words clause. I have no intention of joining, but I don't dare say I won't, or it's only inevitable that I will.

Still, I have been thinking of this entry all day, and honestly, it has continued to perplex me. It is a pattern truly atypical to anything you would ever think of college students doing.

Gruntled said...

It is a testimony to the power of distinctive cultures, though. Each college does have its distinctive oddnesses.