For Those Who Think Young

Actress Tara Reid arrives at the exclusive Chelsea Football Club Paint the Town Blue party at a private residence in Los Angeles on Wednesday, July 18, 2007. (AP Photo/Branimir Kvartuc
Brooke Ferguson was a little taken aback when a letter from her college in southern Wisconsin urged her to bring a pair of "thongs" to school.

She thought officials at Beloit College were making underwear suggestions. "Then I realized they meant shower shoes," the 18-year-old freshman says, laughing.

The generation-gap-induced mix-up has become fodder for a list officials at Beloit create each year to give faculty members a few clues about their newest students.

The Mindset List reminds professors that celebrities, news stories and facts of everyday life when they were young aren't even a memory for today's freshmen.

The Mindset List
Excerpts from the Beloit College "Mindset List," devised to help illustrate the perspective of incoming freshmen, most of them born in 1983.

From their perspective, Ricky Nelson, Marvin Gaye and Laura Ashley have always been dead.

The New Kids on the Block are over the hill.

IBM Selectric typewriters are antiques.

Thongs don't come in pairs and slide between the toes.

Recording TV programs on VCRs became legal the year they were born.

There has always been Diet Coke.

A browser is not someone relaxing in a bookstore.

Sarajevo was a war zone, not an Olympic host.

Drug testing for athletes has always been routine.

There has always been a hole in the ozone layer.

Jimmy Hoffa has always been officially dead.

They do not know what the "Selective Service" is, but men routinely register for it on their financial aid forms.

Ron Howard and Rob Reiner have always been balding, older film directors.

Most major newspapers have always been printed with color.

They have never known exactly what to call the rock star formerly and presently known as Prince.

They have heard "just say no" since they were toddlers.

Most of them know someone who was born with the help of a test tube.

Oprah has always been a national institution.

For the class of 2005, "IBM Selectric typewriters are antiques," this year's list notes — a contention confirmed by the blank stares that mention of the Selectric drew from many of Beloit's freshmen.

"Gotcha," 18-year-old Meg Kassabaum says with smirk when told that the typewriters were the cutting-edge technology of their day.

The confusion over bringing thongs to school inspired this list entry: "Thongs no longer come in pairs and slide between the toes."

Many students also were surprised to learn that most Americans didn't grow up drinking Diet Coke, also on this year's list.

"Yes, once upon a time, you could not get a diet soft drink," Tom McBride, an English professor who helps write the list, told a group of some of this year's 320 Beloit freshmen. The new students arrived this week for orientation and a few pre-class lectures, discussions and field trips.

The list is so popular that it regularly pops up in email boxes worldwide. University officials say they get occasional complaints about it from students, who say the list belittles and stereotypes them, or is just plain inaccurate.

But McBride is quick to defend it, telling them, "We're not saying you're ignorant." He pauses, smiles and then adds, "Just limited."

Besides, he says, the list is supposed to be fun, thought-provoking and mostly "a reminder to aging Baby Boomers," who may be struggling with the mere fact that most college underclassmen were born in the early 1980s.

"When you want time to slow down, that's precisely when it speeds up," McBride says. "And I think this list reminds them of that."

As the list points out, most freshmen are unaware that Sarajevo ever hosted the winter Olympics. To them, it is simply a war zone.

And unlike preceding generations, who may remember where they were when JFK was shot or when the Challenger space shuttle exploded, these freshmen relate to different events — among them, the Oklahoma City bombing and execution of Timothy McVeigh.

"Maybe it's because of where I'm from, but I will always remember the morning that it happened," Joe Planer, an 18-year-old freshman from North Manchester, Ind., says of McVeigh's execution two months ago in his home state.

He and several others also mention the deep impact of the Columbine High School massacre, while still others remember being pulled out of their grade-school classrooms to watch the O.J. Simpson freeway chase and trial verdict.

Much of their generation's humor, meanwhile, is the product of another Simpson — Bart and his cartoon family. And most of them grew up using computers.

McBride, a professor at Beloit for 28 years, says he has noticed other differences in modern-day freshmen.

He sees them as more health-conscious, goal-oriented and docile than their predecessors. "Students 20 years ago were much more rebellious and suspicious of authority," he says.

These days, the popularity of the list among that very generation of former rebels — now the older generation — is pretty much ensuring that it will live on.

Ron Nief, list co-author and the school's spokesman, already has at leas one entry in mind for next year.

"Who is Marilyn?" he recently asked a group of students, thinking they'd probably respond "Monroe."

Their answer?

Written By MARTHA IRVINE © MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed