29.8.13

THIRTEENTH GRADE.

Book Review No. 25 takes us to Midwest University, where sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton did fieldwork among the Ashleys in a party dormitory.  They began their work investigating a number of more conventional feminist themes, then discovered that they had enough material for an investigation of the political economy of higher education.  That research yields Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality.



I've seen commentary on the book suggesting Indiana University in Bloomington as the site of the fieldwork.  Midwest is the state flagship, although the book refers to Rival, which has a less-attractive campus in the eyes of some of the students.  Let's say that the East German compass-and-transit looks just right as decoration on some of the buildings in West Lafayette.  Some of the students transfer or have friends at Midwest State, which is consistent with nomenclature of the Indiana public universities, but not of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, or Minnesota.  When you have eliminated the impossible, Watson ...

The researchers original interest in college life included "Accounting for Women's Orgasm and Sexual Enjoyment in College Hookups and Relationships", which earned space in the highly-regarded American Sociological Review.
We find that women have orgasms more often in relationships than in hookups. Regression analyses reveal that specific sexual practices, experience with a particular partner, and commitment all predict women’s orgasm and sexual enjoyment. The presence of more sexual practices conducive to women’s orgasm in relationship sex explains some of why orgasm is more common in relationships.
Or as at least one Playboy Playmate of the Month stated it, "I don't care much for casual sex, it's better when you're in love."  All hail the power of a consistent estimator!

In a Gender and Society paper, "Gendered Sexuality in Young Adulthood," the book's authors anticipate one message of Paying for the Party.
The four-year university, however, also reflects a privileged path to adulthood. The authors show that it is characterized by a classed self-development imperative that discourages relationships but makes hooking up appealing. Experiences of this structural conflict vary. More privileged women struggle to meet gender and class guidelines for sexual behavior, placing them in double binds. Less privileged women find the class beliefs of the university foreign and hostile to their sexual and romantic logics.
We find in Paying for the Party that the "more privileged women" have trouble walking the line between "hot" and "slutty" and the "romantic logics" of the "less privileged women" include such impedimenta as Christian beliefs, or involvement with high school sweeties now well on the path to burnout-dom.  "Gendered Sexuality" offers an instructive profile of the modal resident of the dormitory the researchers visited.
Students reported that they requested these dormitories if they were interested in drinking, hooking up, and joining the Greek system.  This orientation places them in the thick of American youth culture.  Few identified as feminist, and all presented a traditionally feminine appearance (e.g., not one woman had hair shorter than chin length).  Most planned to marry and have children.
One day, the feminist movement will offer a coherent explanation for how the greatest beneficiaries of feminism reject feminism.
One has to wonder how different things would have been if feminism had demanded economic freedom for women and denounced the sexual revolution in the interest of preserving womens' traditional roles as the guardians of chastity. This would have gained for women the equal pay and opportunity they deserved while at the same time ensuring that women who wanted to raise families would find willing husbands-to-be.

Such a situation would also have spread the gains from feminism. Today the only victors in the sexual revolution are those men and women who are good-looking and clever enough to enjoy multiple partners with a minimum of emotional and financial commitment. The dowdy and the not-so-clever (or not-so-unscrupulous) are used by the well-endowed and find loneliness and frustration where, in a previous generation, they would probably have been able to start families.
Paying for the Party reports on the lives of the dorm residents for a few years beyond graduation, by which time there is modest evidence that even some of the more successful players on the collegiate party scene are floundering, or crashing, at establishing their careers, or being able to assortatively mate.  But even the party girls ... check p. 201 ... aren't as into bad boys as the pickup artists might want you to believe.

The research also relies on "Sexual Assault on Campus: A Multilevel, Integrative Approach to Party Rape", from Social Problems.
We discuss student homogeneity, expectations that partiers drink heavily and trust their party-mates, and residential arrangements.  We explain how these factors intersect with more obviously gendered processes such as gender differences in sexual agendas, fraternity control of parties, and expectations that women be nice and defer to men.  We show that partying produces fun as well as sexual assault, generating student resistance to criticizing the party scene or men's behavior in it.
Thus, we have a classic risk-return problem.  The frat-boys procure the drinks and screen the men, then they provide transportation (a service that an Alabama fraternity provided to get out the votes in a school board election.  I remember a nasty song about the Chi-Os ...) and occasionally a member gets a guest drunk and then gives his member a workout, but for the most part it's something to do.  Paying for the Party makes the university complicit in the party scene through its creation of what the authors call "business-lite" majors (is there some liberal-arts score-settling going on?) in which the Brads and Ashleys (terms I stole from the long-ago Phantom Professor) can maintain grades, degrees, tans, and Boozeday and Thirstday.

The party scene is not for everybody, and there's room for further research on the evolutionary stability of styles of dress.  "Trading on Heterosexuality", also in Gender and Society, provides background information on the dynamics of the dorm floor, particularly among the people that aren't as into the Greek social scene.
The author describes a prevailing heterosexual erotic market on campus—the Greek party scene—and the status hierarchy linked to it. Within this hierarchy, heterosexual women assign lesbians low rank because of their assumed disinterest in the erotic market and perceived inability to acquire men's erotic attention. Active partiers invest more in this social world and prefer higher levels of social distance from lesbians than do others. These women also engage in same-sex eroticism primarily designated for a male audience. They define their behaviors as heterosexual, reducing the spaces in which lesbians can be comfortable. Finally, the author concludes by discussing the unique nature of women's homophobia and the links between sexism and heterosexism.
Forgive me: what incentive does a lesbian have to imitate the look of the Ashleys? But I digress.

What, then, does Paying for the Party say about the political economy of higher education?  First, it suggests an omitted alternative in the recent Epple, et. al. general equilibrium analysis of collegiate admission and pricing behavior.  "We show that private colleges game the federal financial aid system, strategically increasing tuition to increase student aid, and using the proceeds to spend more on educational resources and to compete for high-ability students." A model can only allocate resources to the outcomes provided for.  Armstrong and Hamilton suggest that Midwest isn't necessarily competing for high-ability students.  The dullard scions of the English ruling class used to go into the colonial service.  In the American ruling class, they major in hotel management and fashion marketing.

As far as maintaining inequality, the evidence from Paying for the Party is less convincing. The authors propose a six-way classification of their students: the socialites and wannabes are the mean girls of high school, with trust funds, the strivers that either stay or leave are the canonical first-generation, non-traditional, poor-background people unprepared for the lifestyles of the 1% and too-often patronized by the regional comprehensive universities and community colleges, the professionals are able to get into the college of business or science, and the underachievers ...

The path of the striver, whether remaining at Midwest or not, or the professional, is the path most likely to produce upward mobility or maintenance of condition for anyone who doesn't have a trust fund.  The strivers, however, run the risk of defaulting into what the authors call a "socialite" (hint: lite) major, if they don't choose a pragmatic major, and the strivers who choose pragmatic majors might do better at a regional university.  Because all the samples are small, these observations may not generalize.  The professionals, or achievers, sample the party scene and withdraw, preferring to network with "ambitious peers" (p. 183) while the underachievers often remain tied to their high-school coterie.

If we take the implications of Epple et. al. at face value, perhaps the more effective strategy for a college administration pinched by a stingy legislature might be to compete for the strivers and the achievers.  As the authors observe (p. 162), "Organizational support for the party pathway not only caters to the agendas of privileged students, it undermines the experience of less privileged students."  Without further research, we don't know whether the agendas of a subset of the privileged students (there being more than a few who know how to work the professional path to advantage) actually leave those students on the down escalator.

One student observed about the Ashleys, "They're the ones that I see in class texting all the time.  And bitching about class being boring when I'm actually enjoying it."  (Party 112)  Thus, develop a strategy to provide a critical mass of students who get into their work.  If the flagship campus doesn't do it, perhaps the comprehensives must.  Likewise, at page 136 is a socialite griping about advising.  "They told me to take Finite [Math]  -- first of all, you don't take Finite your first semester of college, you just don't."  No, I didn't.  I took Calculus.  The one that I could use as a prerequisite for any higher maths courses.  Geeks not Greeks anyone?  We discover later that a socialite parlayed her business-lite major into an entry-level job, but the promotions early on went to holders of the business degree proper.

Taken together, Paying for the Party reinforces the Cold Spring Shops case for higher education being higher.  Admitting the dullard scions of tycoons is not an exception to the general principle that "access" is not a euphemism for admitting Distressed Material; remediation and retention efforts sap faculty morale (and at Midwest, professors have some freedom to opt out of such courses), and the assessment of students' chances at Midwest State relies on market tests.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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