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.


SeanH said...

How utterly bizarre. It reads like the description of an unusually formally structured alien society in a sci-fi novel, or a teen movie, which is more or less the same thing. Then again, I'm at quite a different institution (Sheffield), so perhaps it isn't quite so odd as it seems.

Ken Lammers said...

Not really all that strange. A small school wherein everyone lives together and most everyone eats in the same place at the same time is going to develop patterns.

I've eaten at 5 different schools' cafeterias while taking classes and each time there was a group I sat with. University of Kentucky - people with whom I graduated high school; Defense Language Institute - people studying Arabic; Methodist College - other active service military types attending school at the same time; Centre - Phi Tau; Washington & Lee - other law students. I'd also note that there were obviously other groups and that gender segregation seemed to be a common trait.

SeanH said...

It could be that I'm simply unused to such a unified structure. Here at U of S, first-years live in university accomodation, but there are a number of halls of residence - seven or eight, I think. Second- and third-years very rarely live in halls; they tend to move into houses (which I will do when I end my first year in a month). Similarly, there's no "eating together". At the halls where the students are catered to, they eat together; I can't say what it's like there, since in my hall, students cook for themselves.

Are American universities all so centralised?

Ken Lammers said...

Not many are. Most schools have a majority of students living off campus. However, most have a dining hall where you can observe variations on this sort of social structuring (especially during lunch when many people stay on campus to eat between classes).

Gruntled said...

The small liberal arts college is a kind of institution almost unknown in the rest of the world. 98% of Centre students live on campus, and there is one main dining hall in which nearly all of them take most of their meals. This would be unusual, if not impossible, at a larger place, but is fairly common at small (<1300 students) colleges.

Michael Kruse said...

"The small liberal arts college is a kind of institution almost unknown in the rest of the world."

My Dad was a prof at just such a school for ten years. It was about the same size. I went to college there just after he left. It truly is another world.