Saturday, May 20, 2006


This is the fastest rising girl's name in the century that the Social Security Administration has been keeping track of these things. From zero to 70th in six years.

It's "heaven" spelled backwards.

So what comes next?

Anavrin? Sounds like a painkiller.

Ayla, for Muslim girls (and her friends the 72 siruoh)?

Hallahlav? Maybe, though it sounds like a Cockney greeting ("'ello, luv")

Supmylo? Maybe, though it sounds like a ghetto greeting ("'S up, Mylo")

And why stop with heavens? Obmil, anyone? Yrotagrup?

Y, indeed?

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.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Centre College: the Typical Level 3 Family

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

Maggie Scarf writes about level 3 families as a stable, nontyrannical form of governance with an unresolved problem of intimacy. With the range of families on the Beavers scale stretching from “severely disturbed” (level 5) to “optimal” (level 1), it seems that level 3 might not be the best, but it is definitely a step up from the confusion and control that are found in the lower levels. Rules for a family are the glue that holds the family out of chaos. According to, “every healthy family lives by a set of rules in the home, some high standards for attitudes and conduct directed toward the welfare of others.” Rules also let each member of the family live in the environment with a set role that comes with a set of specific rules about how to perform that role. In a level 3 family where rules are abundant, there is no confusion about where each member fits or what their responsibilities are for the family. Everyone’s behavior is effectively regulated and there is predictability, order, and control built into the family system. With letting rules dominate the family, an important sacrifice is made: intimacy.

We would like to suggest that Scarf’s Beavers scale can be used as a model for more than families. All interactions within a community can be fit into these five levels with the dominating characteristics seen as the norm within that community. Centre College, the wonderful institution that we attend, is just like a level 3 family. Not purposely, but the relations among the students are defined by rules, or as we like to call them, social commandments, leaving little room for intimacy.

The social commandments of Centre College:
1. Men and women are not to consume food at the same table in Cowan
2. Do not show affection for the opposite sex in public. This includes:
a. Holding hands
b. Kissing
c. Talking
d. Eating together
3. If you’re in an actual relationship, hide it from the general public until it is considered serious
4. “Hooking up” is okay while intoxicated, but this does not change the rules of sober interaction

There are a few circumstances where the above rules may be set aside temporarily:
1. Athletic teams may eat together and communicate with any gender as long as it is in direct conjunction with a practice or sports event
2. “Wingnuts,” who sit in the outer wings of the hall, do not follow the Cowan seating rules
3. The Cowan seating rules may be set aside during Saturday/Sunday brunch or during breakfast
4. Drunken interactions may or may not follow the rules

The Cowan seating chart is the most obvious place to view Centre’s display of the level 3 rule-bound family. Freshmen first enter Cowan thinking they can sit wherever they want and with whomever they want. They soon learn that this is not the way Centre works; there are certain rules that must be followed. Men and women are supposed to sit at separate tables, with the women sitting on the inside of the circular main room, and the men sticking to the outside tables. Looking around the outside of the room there are tables for each of the fraternities, with the inside tables designated for the sororities, freshmen women, and sports teams. Sports teams are the only ones that are allowed to sit with the opposite sex, but only if the interaction is in conjunction with a sporting event or practice. The rules are sometimes set aside during weekend brunch, when topics of conversation concern only the events of the past night, or during breakfasts, when everyone present is studying for the same upcoming test. The only way the rules can be broken during weekday lunch or dinner is if you allow yourself to be considered a “wingnut,” which is basically defined as those who prefer to sit in the wings, rather than the large main room of Cowan.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Divorce Effects, Part Two

By guest bloggers Will Adams and Ellie Guy from the Family Life class.
(Part two of two)

A recent study conducted by Norval Glenn at the University of Texas at Austin has some surprising things to say about the effects of divorce on children relative to the quality of divorce. Glenn says that children of good divorces are caught off guard by the divorce and have long-term damage to their views of marriage as an institution. Children of a bad divorce see the conflict leading up to the divorce and can justify the divorce in their minds and, while they may blame one or both parents for their actions, their faith in the institution of marriage is maintained. The children of bad divorce, however, experience a much greater psychological trauma as they are often “torn between two worlds” worse than children of good divorce are.

What Glenn’s research shows is that both good and bad divorces have detrimental effects on the children involved. He, like most researchers in the field, concedes that there are examples of abusive marriages where the parents and children are better off with a divorce, but that this population is a small minority. Save those few situations, most divorces have an overwhelmingly negative effect on children. What we see is that divorced children, having either been disillusioned by marriage or made to fear divorce in their own relationships, will have a greater likelihood of themselves either never getting married or ending a marriage in divorce.

This trend seems to indicate that we may begin to see a cyclical pattern in families that have experienced divorce. Because of this, we believe it would be interesting to conduct a study that looks at marital happiness and success based on the family history of the two people in the marriage: whether both come from intact or divorced families or if one comes from each. Our belief is that the findings would show that both spouses from intact families would be the happiest and successful, both from divorced families second, and mixed spouses the least happy. Our reasoning for listing two children-of-divorce spouses as the next happiest behind the dual-intact spouses is that we believe a percentage of dual-divorced marriages would be both so turned off by their parents’ experiences that they would be willing to do anything to make their own marriages work. Furthermore, if they both came from this background they would understand each other’s mentalities. Our reasoning for placing a mixed family history marriage as the least likely to be happy/successful is that we feel the intact-family spouse would not fully understand where the divorced-family spouse had grown up with. Furthermore, one spouse would have experienced his or her parents dealing with situations while the other one would not have that knowledge. The result would be that the two come to the marriage with unequal marital skills and knowledge.

This is all obviously theoretical. We would like to see the results of such a study and believe that it will be conducted someday and anticipate its results.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Divorce Effects, Part One

By guest bloggers Will Adams and Ellie Guy from the Family Life class.
(Part one of two)

In life, statistics do not lie, and divorce has become a large part of our life in today’s culture. Since the 1960’s and 70’s divorce rates have been on the rise in society. It has, in a sense, become more acceptable to enter into marriage knowing that there is a future possibility of divorce. But this of course does not come without consequences. Researchers have been studying the effects of divorce on families, especially those on children, and have found some overwhelming evidence that divorce is harmful for children. Many believe that by ending a conflict laden marriage they are freeing their children of the chaotic and unhealthy family structure. In reality, they are freeing their children from family structure. Parents think that children can sense the unhappiness and tension in the household, while in reality children think that their family situation (barring excessive violence or abuse) is the norm and that mommy and daddy are merely having disagreements. Furthermore, studies have shown that parental conflict does not end with divorce, but only increases the harmful effects on children as they are caught between the two parents and the two households.

While much research has been done on the harmful effects of divorce on children, led by such researchers as Judith Wallerstein, little has been done on the effects of divorce on the children after they grow up. The effects of divorce don’t cease when the child becomes an adult. The reason that little research has been done in this area is that the effects may not be apparent until decades after the initial divorce, and since divorce did not become widely accepted until the late 80s-early 90s, we have only recently been able to see the long-term effects. Only recently has data started to emerge showing that the marriages of children of divorce are traumatized by the divorce of their parents. And while the negative effects on children of divorce’s future marriages has been recognized, little has been done to attempt to explain the psychology of these effects let alone how to properly prevent them. Furthermore, recent research has begun to show surprising effects on children’s marriages based on the type of divorce experienced, which will be discussed in tomorrow’s post.

In a 1995 study reported in the American Journal of Sociology, Webster, Orbuch, and House showed that among unhappy marriages, those who had grown up in divorced families and those who had never known their fathers were much more likely to end up divorced than were those in unhappy marriages who had grown up in a two-married-parent household. This study does report several different theories put forth by other scholars pertaining to the relationship between family history and marital stability, but determines that empirical evidence does not conclusively support any of these theories.

In addition, in the 1987 Journal of Marriage and Family, Glenn and Kramer found evidence in US national surveys conducted from 1973 to 1985 that children of divorced families are more likely to divorce in the future. They supported these findings with a plethora of reasons for why this correlation might occur. Some of their theories include that children with divorced parents have inappropriate modeling for spouse roles, less social support from parents, a lower level of education, the greater likelihood of resorting to divorce, and a lower average age of getting married which ultimately leads to higher rates of divorce. Glenn and Kramer used these statistical findings to formulate a variety of conclusions that demonstrated the detrimental effects of children of divorce on their marital future.

Elizabeth Marquardt covers in depth the effects of divorce on children in their early childhood, psychologically and emotionally. She asserts that though some believe divorce is the best plan of action to avoid future disaster, in reality there is no such thing as a ‘good’ divorce that leads to a positive outcome. Moreover, as we are beginning to see with new and upcoming research, the effects do not end in childhood; they are carried throughout life and are evident in the children’s married lives and families. Which begs the question, what can be to avoid this detrimental outcome in our families and our society as a whole?

Monday, May 15, 2006

"Close Relations" Theory Pours Acid on Family Roles

Dan Cere wrote a fine essay on how the "close relations" theory is quickly displacing the conjugal theory of marriage in the laws of this country and Canada. I have written about it before. For their final examination, my family life students had to consider all we had studied in light of this conflict of paradigms. I learned something, as I always do, from these examinations.

One of the ideas we spent some time with is the Beavers Scale of Family Functioning, a family systems account that divides families into five large categories of functioning from chaotic to optimal. One of the points that Robert Beavers emphasizes (as does the author who popularized his view, Maggie Scarf) is that well-functioning families have clear boundaries around their various roles. The boundaries should not been too rigid, but neither should they be too permeable. But in order to have boundaries around family roles, you need to have some dependable roles to begin with. Beavers builds on the boundaries around the marriage, around the parent-child groups, and around the family as a whole, in addition to subsidiary roles.

The conjugal theory is, obviously, built around the roles of husband and wife. In the more amorphous world in which any close relationship is as good as any other, and none are assumed to be permanent, "family roles" melt away. In fact, under a close relations model, I don't see how we could talk about functional and dysfunctional families at all. This may be part of the appeal of the close relations paradigm to postmodernist intellectuals. The freedom from defined roles is likely to be cold comfort, though, to children caught in the chaos of a formless family.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mom and the Prom

My mother went to Swarthmore at 17. I have seen pictures of her then – a very pretty brown-eyed girl who, well, had a figure pleasing to men. I learned what the word "chic" meant when I read the description of her in the college yearbook. She met my father at a freshmen mixer dance, and they went on to a long and successful marriage. I talked to my mother yesterday, as I do every Saturday, and we went over the news of family, friends, and the big world. My mother is part of my wisdom circle, and I am proud to be part of hers.

My daughter just turned 18, and will go to Swarthmore in the fall. She is a very pretty brown-eyed girl who, well, has a Marilyn figure. Last night my wife and I had the pleasure of enacting a classic scene with her as she got ready for the prom. She had been to the hairdresser, and came back with what she has taught me is an "up-do." Her mother had latched that hard-to-reach hook in the back, and our eldest was before us in a halter dress like the one that Marilyn Monroe wore in "The Seven Year Itch" in the famous updraft scene, except our girl's dress was black. We watched her put the last touches of her makeup on, a skill she certainly did not learn from her nerdy parents.

As I watched my daughter get ready, I thought of my mother, whom she resembles.

Thank you delightful daughter.

Happy Mothers' Day, Mom.