Ironically, the ethos of diversity designed to nourish students’ capacity for acceptance and tolerance became, at least in the hands of adolescent girls with little adult supervision, just another tool for status jockeying. The upper-class girls cultivated what the authors call a “being mean nicely” approach to their inferiors. They found ways to remind their less affluent peers of their beta status on a daily basis, by talking about designer brands and vacation destinations unfamiliar to a Walmart crowd, or ignoring them when it came time to go to dinner, or posting photos on Facebook from the previous night’s party from which the “losers” had been excluded. Along with a few affluent girls unwilling or unable to compete on this Darwinian savannah, students who might have used college as stepping stone into the middle class became loners, holed away in their dorm rooms and thinking wistfully of their hometowns.Insufficient socialization into the ways of the middle class by the common schools? Check.
Their isolation might not have been so demoralizing had the university provided opportunities for genuine intellectual growth or even simple guidance about appropriate career paths. It did not. The less privileged girls arrived at college with as much disadvantage in the classroom as they had in their dorm. They usually needed remedial classes, which added to the expenses they already could barely manage. They were rarely exposed to serious students; although several of their floormates had professional aspirations, the more intellectually ambitious students tended to be ghettoized onto separate honors floors.
Insufficient cultivation of the life of the mind at university? Check.
Replication of the middle school social scene in the dorms and the Greek-letter organizations? Check.
Why, dear reader, is it so difficult to see the fix?