A Freshman State Of Mind

College students in campus, word college AP / CBS

For this year's college freshmen, computers have always fit in a backpack and Paul Newman has always made salad dressing. Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie are old enough to be their parents.

Those are just a few of the cultural reference rifts between the students and their professors this year, according to Beloit College's sixth annual Mindset List.

The list aims to bridge the gap so professors can communicate better with students.

But who, some University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee freshmen asked Tuesday, is this Paul Newman? Or Pete Rose, who the list points out has always been a gambler in their lifetime?

"I've never heard of those people," said Pamela Westmoreland, 18.

By the time Westmoreland was born, the list informs us, Russian leaders had already taken to looking like leaders everywhere else and a test could screen for AIDS.

"We're really just trying to illustrate the generation gap," said Beloit College humanities professor Tom McBride, one of two who developed the list.

"Professors will teach by referring to cultural information for purposes of analogy or illustration. But the kind of information they're using may simply not be relevant to 18-year-old minds."

He said it's not surprising that even those in their 20s feel old reading the list, since the pace of cultural change is swift these days. Marketers target students in such a specific age range that even people just a few years out of college have different references.

"Adults today really look upon 18-year-olds as if they're from Borneo or outer Mongolia," McBride said.

But it's up to the professors to teach the next generation.

For this year's class, "Ctrl+Alt+Del" is as basic as ABC, and the Osmonds have never been more than talk show hosts.

Sarah Hugill, 19, said she doesn't agree with the list's assertion that to her generation: "An automatic is a weapon, not a transmission."

"The only access to guns I've ever experienced is hunting rifles," said Hugill, who comes from a farm in Livingston, Wis.

But she laughed while reading other entries: "Oh my God, Bert and Ernie are old enough to be my parents!"

The list also highlights expressions that have grown up along with the freshmen: "bling bling" (flashy jewelry) and "dissing" (treating with disrespect).

Hugill's high school graduating class voted to add "bling bling" tassles of fake crystals to their graduation caps — for an added fee of $7, she said.

Adults may not understand college freshmen, but McBride cautioned them not to dismiss the younger generation just because they have their own references. The point of a liberal arts education, after all, is to teach some history and context, he said.

"I think it's also important that we try to understand something about the way they look at the world, not just what they don't know," he said.
  • Jaime Holguin

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