• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


Collegiate Youth Today

Sex and drugs and more.

December 7, 2014

In previous blogs I have mentioned my non-IT background and how for some people in my life it took time to get used to me being in that role.  Ironically, now I sometimes feel pigeonholed to the contrary. Why is an IT person writing about sexual assault and rape on campus? Certainly a “policy” person can answer than question easily. The ease I had filling the IT Director role was in transferring ethical and legal thinking to cyberspace; the rapidity with which I shift to discussing ethics and law in physical space is an easy translation. That observation is especially true when gossip sites expand the scope and amplify behaviors that are actionable in physical space.  College and university administrators now need to be thinking about all of these avenues of communication in their considerations about how to support young men and women as they navigate through higher education.

Allow me a few additional observations on this subject.  A student subculture hitherto undefined generationally was long in making its way into the headlines. While psychologists and the media with cheerleader-like attention were focused on “Millennials” thought to be tech savvy, questioning of traditional work habits and mores of society in the best sense, overachievers overcommitted with activities, helicoptered by parents and anxious to know where they really stood because everyone in their baseball league got a trophy, I increasingly heard about binge drinking, a hyper-focus on Greek life (because given the drinking age restrictions, that’s where the alcohol is), hook-up culture (and I don’t mean for coffee), and myriad ways in which students sought to undermine “the system:” file-sharing copyrighted content, procuring pre-written papers or instructor’s manuals on the campus intranet to do homework, meet assignments or even take exams, and, of course, underage drinking and the smoking of marijuana (if not indulging in other drugs, including those given unknowingly with the intention of rendering others unable to think or act clearly). 

I have not been feeling so enthusiastic about what I was learning. From the beginning of the “copyright wars” I have thought that the worst effect was the signal that it sent young people to blithely disregard and disobey the law instead of working for reform.  I grew up in an Italian restaurant family with a hard drinking Irish on the mother’s side.  I have been drinking wine at dinner since I was eight.  I think the drinking age at 21 in this country is beyond silly.  It creates a forbidden fruit and invites extreme behaviors. Worse of all, it sends the signal that it is okay, a right of passage, to flout the law. 

Now let’s talk about sex.  I did not grow up a prude. I went to a Catholic girl’s high school, and, although respectful of the nuns (I wrote my doctoral dissertation on them), yes, I was rebellious. But a hook-up culture? Dating is inverted. First you have sex, and then if that goes okay, you might think about dating. Call me old-fashioned but that norm sounds more like commodification than sex to me … except, of course, I get that sex in our society has become commodified. But why would you want to capitulate to those norms?

I have not even gotten to drugs yet … When I worked at a public pool in the City of Rochester as a teen-ager, I smoked marijuana for the first time. I never liked it very much, but on occasion, just to be social, I would try it again from time to time. Powder cocaine was more my thing.  In my junior year of college I used it sometimes to help me concentrate on my studies (most people today would have prescription Concerta) until my supplier, a fellow student who drove twice a week to New Hampshire for more and who got addicted to the point of snorting it in a dining hall plastic glass with a straw, drove head on into another car killing himself and everyone else involved.  Not just because of that awful incident but because of what it represented about its destructive power to all of society, I have come to deplore drug trafficking in this country.  If given a wand to wave over one social policy issue – and I could think of many -- I would wave it over this highly insidious, profit-driven, violence riddled, bully-dominated, no-good comes of it drug world and all of the influences that have allowed it to fester in our communities.  I have disclosed my own past because I do not want it said that I speak from a holier-than-thou platform when I say it saddens me very deeply to hear about the penetration of both illegal and legal drugs (used illegally) in our colleges and universities today. 

What’s my overall point?  It is time to stop putting our children on a pedestal of “Millenniums” and see that they are very much in and of a highly imperfect world. That world confuses them with mixed messages about compliance to law and authority, bombards them through advertising, sports and entertainment with signals that sanction commodification of people and sexuality, and is terribly infected at the core with a greed-driven drug culture. Our children are facing some very serious and dramatic challenges attempting to make sense of this complex, contradictory world that we bequeath to them. Even though I have shared my views at this stage, I am done judging.  The only thing left to do is ask, “What can I do to help?” 


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