The View From South Campus: Too Much Freedom

I tell you, some things are just too easy in college.

This is not usually the line I take in my column. For the most part, I use this space as a public sounding board for freaking out about those trivial trials and tribulations that regularly pepper my waking existence here at the Claremont Colleges. At this point, it’s tacitly understood that I devote a lot of my TSL space to challenges, be they clear and present or just the latest incarnations of my own deep-seated neurosis. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when it comes to college life, there’s a lot that’s met with very little resistance.

I’m talking about drogas, droogies. Dope, subs, candy, the hard stuff, the soft stuff, the stuff—o, my brothers, are you picking up what I’m putting down (no, put your money away, it’s not a dime bag)? I guess that what I mean to be talking about is freedom, because therein lies the real rub. In high school, we had rules. We spent seven or eight hours a day at school, where we tended to go class and do our homework and try—more or less—to follow the points in the handbook, because we knew that if we broke the rules we would fail, or be expelled, or (heaven forbid) fail to gain admission to the college of our choice. After school, we would go home; this generally involved a choice between locking ourselves in our room to study and spending prolonged amounts of time with our parents, which wasn’t really much of a choice at all. We trudged through weeks in this way, measuring out our feeble adolescent lives with coffee-spoons Monday through Friday, and then, on the weekends, if we were lucky, somebody might throw a house party, complete with iPod DJ, a bowl of stale chips, and a case of Coors Light. It’s not that there weren’t drugs around in high school—I’m lumping alcohol in with drugs here—it’s just that they were a heck of a lot harder to get a hold of. To that end, a good deal of us went through all four years without ever laying eyes on them.

There were exceptions on the other end of the spectrum, too. Some of us, admittedly, had lives with no rules and no parental supervision or obligation and no bedtime (yes, I had one, and yes, I recently stayed up until eight in the morning writing a paper, partly because I had to get it done, partly because I could. I also got a tattoo. See where I’m going with this whole danger-in-freedom thing?). But for the rest of us, these laws of our tiny universes kept us in check.

Given that we the people of South Campus are underage, as well as living in the United States and therefore subject as ever to its stringent drug scheduling policies, the same laws should be in effect, but… they just aren’t. They’re enforced—any of my (many) buddies who’ve had a handle yanked away by a reproachful RA will tell you that—but it’s so easy to fly under the radar that, most of the time, it’s easy enough to pretend that they don’t exist. Gone are the days of wading through piles of work in anticipation of the occasional weekend party (with booze! Let’s just say it, okay! When people talk or write about the party scene, they’re talking about booze!), the days of jumping at the chance when a particular controlled substance happens to roll through your sleepy little town every once in a million years. The demand has always been there, and now that the floodgates of supply—of freedom, of time, of stuff—are wide open, the old patterns no longer apply. Something’s got to give.

I am not advocating stricter drug and alcohol policies. Call me a coward (I prefer relativist, but in the end it doesn’t matter what you call me, because there’s no absolute truth or validity to what you say and it all depends on point of view [see what I did there?]), but I tend to err on the side of caution in formulating an opinion about anything, because the world is really, really complicated and I don’t think I understand it (hence the perpetual existential crisis, presented here in weekly installments for your enjoyment). I simply calls ‘em as I sees ‘em, and what I sees is a major change in my immediate environmental climate since I’ve come to college.

Take, for example, the culture surrounding marijuana (that most pernicious of devil-weeds, that makes harlots of women and murderous thieves of good Christian men). On one hand, everybody’s smoking weed that comes from within the school, which cuts down on the risk of accidentally coming into a laced or tainted windfall; on the other, it’s easier than ever to get. Similarly, thanks to the necessity (albeit perceived, but what is any necessity if not perceived? But there’s that existential relativism for you) of pre-gaming, a lot of people are owning their own alcohol for the first time, and that opens up a whole new can of worms.

The lines between school and home are blurring, and parents are, effectively, out of the picture on the daily. The old rules, which we observed—or at least feigned observing—so piously, seem so quaint in retrospect, now that the old institutions are stripped of their power. Which begs the question—did they ever have any? Heck, stricter drug and alcohol policies can come, but as Professor Mahdavi reminded us at last week’s Pomona Student Union-hosted Sex and Sensibility talk, close the door and people will go out the window (granted, the subject matter was altogether different, but my particular brand of relativism affords a great deal of leniency in matters of re-appropriation). We’ve seen our power now and there’s no going back. We can’t un-see it. Talk about coming of age, huh?

I guess that what we do now is exercise the power. There’s something of a Fortunate Fall in here—for what does it mean to spend your school nights sober if you live in constant fear of the wrath of mom and pop (God, Big Brother, whoever)? There aren’t enough hours in the day in college, and it’s up to us, for the first time in our lives, to choose how we spend them. Lord knows it can be hard to adjust one’s thinking in the face of what proves, for some, near-constant temptation, but there’s a lot to be said for self-control (for one thing, consensus is that you feel a lot better in the morning). So, I take it back. Nothing is easy in college, because the things that seem easy often present the greatest challenges.

Yep, that sounds about right in terms of anxiety and non-committal vagueness both. My work here is done.

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