Friday, July 26, 2013

How to Succeed in College

You don't need this nonsense in your life.

My  dad asked at dinner last night what my next blog would be about. He or my mom sometimes ask that when there's a lull in the conversation, but it this case, my dad might have been concerned that I would take on a local true crime topic that has nothing to do with me and should not be discussed by me in public or in the semi-anonymity of my blog. I assured him my intent was to stay as far away from that subject as possible, and that I might discuss what one needs to do to succeed in college.

My mom sort of coughed. "Um," she said (I considered using the Judge Judy line, "Um is not a word," but saw no reason to ruin a peaceful meal), "wouldn't a prerequisite for any qualification for writing on that topic be to have finished college successfully - at least an undergrad degree?"

"Not necessarily,"  I answered. "Sometimes the most highly-sought-after therapists are those whose personal lives are the least stable." She gave me a  "What gives you the right to say that to me when you're sitting at my dinner table?"  look. "Present company excepted," I quickly disclaimed. "Besides, you're not even working in that field anymore. Continuing along those lines, what's the  common thread among life coaches?"

She has the same opinion as I when it come to life coaches. "Their own lives are usually such a complete disaster that such alone [my mom actually speaks that way] would preclude them from giving advice about anything,"she answered.

"My point exactly," I said.

"You haven't exactly flunked out of every school you've ever attended," my dad commented, "So I'm not sure how that's your point, or even  what's your point."

"My point," I told him, "Is that the qualifications on paper give you the right to speak with authority on some topics regardless of your obvious lack of working knowledge  in the field, at least as it applies to yourself.  On other topics,  one need not possess any qualifications even on paper, much less in real life, and in some ways it seems like the less you now, the more people hungrily devour your advice. Other topics are fair game to anyone with advice dispense, though people may be more likely to listen to you if you've somewhat entered the field of expertise you profess without having thoroughly stunk up the joint."

"It reminds me of that musical  How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," my dad commented.

"It's not totally unlike that," I responded "except that the lead character in the play was overtly misrepresenting himself. Where my plan involves a bit of trickery and playing of mind-games, it's essentially solid technique I'm expounding."

"Are you planning on copyrighting your method?" my mom asked.

"No," I answered. 'I just want to help people who are entering a place I've already been to avoid some pratfalls I've either personally experienced or have seen others go through."

"So tell us about your method, " my mom asked. "Is it similar to Sylvan [a commercial tutorial program that seems less popular than it was a few years ago] or is it like EST [Warner Erhard's attempt at body and mind control]?"

"No," I answered, "It's nothing like either of those."

"Then what exactly is your method?" my dad asked.

"I won't know until I start typing," was my answer.

So after that rather lengthy introduction, I shall share with you my methods for being successful in the college/university setting.  This entry will focus upon social success in college.  I must offer by way of a disclaimer that my knowledge here is limited. I'll share what little I know about social issues on campus, but being considerably younger than my university peers and looking even younger than I am, I haven't mastered the art of social ease in class or elsewhere on campus; my information in this regard comes from the perspective of a person standing on the outside of the glass goldfish bowl, peering inside for glimpse of the activity.

My best shot at having fit in socially would have been to have joined a sorority, but every action comes with its equal and opposite reaction, and I was not willing to sell my soul to the devil, or more specifically,  I was unwilling to shell out hard-earned cash so that other people would be forced to be my friends.  I concede that not everything about a frat or sorority is guaranteed to be inherently evil, though the vast majority of what I've seen in that realm is reasonably close to the epitome of the most snobbish form of debauchery on the planet.

The friends I have made have been mostly from common interest groups - from the a capella group with which I was affiliated (the one that made a capella sexy), from the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, in which  I played the character of Chava, amd from my intramural diving group. Additionally, and I'll write more about this when I address academic success in my next post, smart people have a way of recognizing each other in classes.  There are two ways of approaching this: A) be  jealous and competitive and do everything you can to outperform the other smart person or people you've recognized; B) make this person your ally; take notes for one another if you must miss class; study together, as two smart brains are smarter than one; and if group projects must be done, be sure that this person is in your group so that you're not stuck either risking your grade or doing all the work yourself. Additionally, you;ll usually find, unless this person is a total asshole (and a few smart people are) that you have a natural peer with whom you have intelligence in common, and you'll find that by the end of the quarter you're actually friends and might try to sign up for  few of the same sections of classes in the future.

Let me also note that there are academic major-related groups that give themselves  Greek names and that may even call themselves frats or sororities, although those that call themselves frats often admit female members as well. (Some don't, and I will refrain from referring to them as sexist, as an element of camaraderie can exist between a group of the same gender that is de-solidified when the other gender is interpolated. I don't think all such societies should necessarily be gender segregated or gender integrated. Whatever works for any of them is fine.) These are not truly frats or sororities, but are instead pre-professional societies, and are usually committed to raising academic standards, creating an environment where one can readily find a place to seek academic assistance if needed, and creating a sense of community among those with like or similar majors, and are usually heavily involved in charitable work. These organizations are noble, and if one is a good fit for you and you have the opportunity to join it, do so if you wish.

I wonder about their use of Greek letter names. I suspect it's an attempt to muddy the waters and confuse the issue as to whom are the haves and  whom are the have nots.  This probably drives the real frat/sorority rats to distraction.  ("Daddy," whined the sorority girl, "they're using the Greek alphabet for their little clubs, and everyone knows that only people whose parents have lots and lots of money are allowed to use the Greek alphabet. Make them stop it now!  And I want an Oompah Loompah!") Furthermore, what the frat/sorority rats may not know is that the terms have and have not  can be equally applicable to intelligence as to financial excess.

Anyway, I can't give loads of valuable advice on how to be a social success in college except for the obvious number one rule, which is not to try too hard to be a social success in the college/university setting.  Nothing is more pathetic than the male attempting to usurp the role of Big Man on Campus. (My great uncle told me that back in the day, as in the 30's, at many campuses there was an official election for an actual position of Big Man on Campus. Those were the days when only individuals whose parents were wealthy ever got as much as  a single toe onto the campus of a college or university, and all sorts of weird shit went down that even at colleges and universities in which a sizable percentage of students possess drug-addled brains,  would never be allowed to happen today.)

The metaphorical female  counterpart to today's figurative Big Man on Campus  is the proverbial "it" girl, of which there are two or three from each sorority. This is California, and our university is on the coast and even has its own private beach, so the "it" girls are usually California blonde -- either natural or au de Lady Clairol --  and tend to be very tan. In most cases the tans are not spray tans (why pay for the fake, unless we have an extended rainy or overcast period,  when one can have the real thing for free, but the excessive sun exposure will eventually catch up with the "it' girls, who will look sixty when they're forty even with the best work a Beverly Hills Cosmetic surgeon can do; leather skin is not easily undone, surgically or otherwise).Those from a given sorority usually get along, or at least pretend to get along, and there's a limit to how much in-fighting a sorority allows, but their tolerance for each other within their own sororities is more than compensated for by their utter antipathy for the "it" girls from other sororities.   These girls walk into their classrooms each day as though they're Kate Middleton, awaiting recognition from the masses. When nothing happens, they sit in their designated spots [seats are  almost never assigned in college and university courses, but by the second session of any given class, students have usually selected where they will sit, ] and glare at their counterparts from any other sororities,  In auditorium-sized lecture classes, these guidelines don't apply because,with the sheer mass of people present,  group dynamics have shifted to the extent that no one even notices if one girl gives the evil eye to another.

It's best to consider the frat and sorority rats little more than a curiosity and to pay little as attention to them as possible. DO NOT attend their parties -- particularly fraternity parties, but even sorority parties can be hazardous to one's well being. If you ignore my advice and attend a party at a Greek house anyway, do follow a few simple rules. Attend as a group of at least two, and ideally three or four. Agree that you're not going to sneak off into an out-of-the way bedroom or backyard spot no matter how cute the frat boy is who shows an interest in you.  Do not accept any drink that someone provides that has been previously opened. Open it yourself, and guard the top of it as though you're Fidel Castro and you think the CIA is trying to kill you by adding toxic substances to your drink. DO NOT consume more than two alcoholic drinks while at the party. There are places where  it is safe to get a bit bombed as long as you don't approach the level of alcohol poisoning and you don't drive or even ride a bicycle directly afterward.  Frat/sororities parties are NOT among those places.

Arrive together with your group, and leave together. DO NOT remain at the party, no matter how great a time you think you're having, when your friends leave. DO NOT leave a friend there. If you cannot easily find him, or especially  HER, look for her in every nook and cranny of the frat house, and then look outside on the grounds. Call her cell phone. Enlist others' assistance in looking for her, and do not stop if you cannot find her. Call law enforcement if necessary. Say the party has gotten out of hand when you call them for assistance so that they will show up. Otherwise they won't want to help locate your friend until 24or 48 hours have passed. By then, your friend might have become the next Natalee Holloway.

If, at a frat party, you notice that a large group of males are leaving at the same time, be very concerned. It's a "thinning of the herd" ritual. Non-fraternity-member males are asked to leave  so that there are enough females for each frat member to have one to himself. At this point, frat members may become sexually aggressive, and there's really no one likely to come to your assistance if the frat member to which you've been informally assigned won't take no for an answer. When you notice any sign of this sort of action, gather the friends with whom you came and, as a good samaritan action, quietly warn other non frat-associated sorority member girls that something not good is in the works. Get the hell out of the frat house or anywhere else the party is being held as soon as possible if not sooner.

While sorority parties may not be as insidious as frat parties, the girls are not inviting you to their party because they're sweet girls and wish to be friendly and inclusive in regard to those less fortunate than they who could not afford to go Greek. They may be assisting a related frat in insuring that there are enough vaginas and/or mouths to go around (sorry mom, but I'm telling it as it is), or they may be trying to get as many people as possible as wasted as possible so that they can get a decent amount of funny [read: humiliating]video footage for YouTube. Regardless, you have not been invited to a Saturday Afternoon Tea by this sorority, unless you've literally been invited to a Saturday Afternoon Tea, in which case I would still exercise considerable caution if I went at all.

I'm not relying on urban legends that can easily be debunked by consulting I know of what I speak or write. A friend of my family, who is also my personal friend, was drugged and raped last July at a fraternity party here. She showed up with two male friends, and when the
"thinning of the herd" ritual happened, they, for whatever reason, left without her. I'm trying to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they had no clue as to what was happening and, for whatever reason, assumed she was either OK or already gone,  though her fiancee says one of the two boys is particularly non-chivalrous, and would leave a girl in such a situation.

She was found incoherent, limping in a vacant lot with a large bruised lump on her forehead, with tattered clothing, with a badly bruised and banged-up knee, and with defensive wounds.  A graduate student from France happened to see her as he drove past, and stopped to investigate. He called 911. Blood, urine, and hair testing later that night revealed gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid in unnatural amounts (the human body itself produces trace amounts of the substances) in her system, as well as Carisprodol, a muscle relaxant commonly used with in combination with  GHB or benzodiazepenes for date rape purposes.  Testing also revealed male DNA in the genital area, though not internally. Evidence was that the attacker used a condom, though he was careless in its removal or not very quick in putting it on.   The results of this testing didn't come back for months. Real life is not like the various Law& Order genre, where any lab testing has to be wrapped up and ready for the jury within the hour-long segment of the show. Even though the show doesn't occur in real time, the week or two that it takes to get the results  back as portrayed on the program is not in any way realistic. I suppose if Dick Cheney or one of the Obamas were involved, some lab  might be able to come up with  results within just  few days, but for normal people, including college students, expect to wait several months for lab results.

She was given a tetanus shot, antibiotics, antivirals, and a morning after pill.

The little Richie Riches in the fraternity know their rights. None agreed to submit to voluntary DNA testing. Had all but one or two agreed, law enforcement could have focused on them, but when an entire fraternity refuses, that's too many suspects on whom to focus.  For that matter, it could have been a brother or cousin of a frat member. They guy's DNA is in the system now, and if he screws up in any other way related to leaving his DNA lying around or is forced to provide DNA for another infraction,  he'll give a name and face to that DNA and  will be prosecuted for my friend's case as well.

Jillian thought she should sue the fraternity, as some attorney would have taken it on a contingency basis, where the client pays nothing unless he or she is awarded damages, and the attorney takes usually 1/3 of the damages that are awarded. At the very least, the fraternity received a ding with both their national chapter and with the university. If a frat or sorority gets enough dings, they are both disenfranchised by their national organization and banned from association with  the university. It's bad that she can't remember because she cannot identify her attacker. It's good because she has no memory of the attack. Sometimes the best you can do is just not look a gift horse in the mouth.  Dr. Jeff told me she may spontaneously remember his face a some point in time. I'm not sure about statutes of limitations, but it has been increased since the onset if DNA as evidence. Regardless, she would probably still have a civil case.

So, speaking socially, college is not high school.  Don't approach it with hopes of being popular. You may end up being very well-liked within your dorm or within a group of students with whom you associate through a club or an academic program. If so, great.  but do not approach college with hopes of being a all-around popular person in every class or gathering by being loud and obnoxious and drawing attention to yourself, or you will make an ass of yourself.   And dangers lurk. You can avoid most of them, but it involves being prudent, which includes actively looking out for yourself, because sometimes no one else is going to do it for you, and not doing anything stupid. If a person has nine lives in the way a cat metaphorically does, most of us have used up at least seven of them before we even get to college. Don't count on too many lucky breaks in terms of safety and well-being.  Be safe.

1 comment:

  1. I have a lot to say about this... I went to a school where Greek life was huge and I chose not to join a social sorority, though I am (or was) a member of a music honor fraternity for women. It was a lot cheaper and based on grades and musical ability rather than popularity. I am still friends with a lot of my "sisters", as well as members of a certain sorority that had I rushed, I probably would have joined. But I don't like being in groups and being forced to use my free time on shit I don't care about.

    I'd write more, but I need to get finished with this moving process.

    You said... "I was unwilling to shell out hard-earned cash so that other people would be forced to be my friends."

    I would submit you'd be wise to avoid the LDS church for the same reason. ;-)