The New York Times today runs the article I’ve been begging my journalism students to write for the last half-dozen years. Titled “The New Math on Campus,” it begins:
ANOTHER ladies’ night, not by choice.
After midnight on a rainy night last week in Chapel Hill, N.C., a large group of sorority women at the University of North Carolina squeezed into the corner booth of a gritty basement bar. Bathed in a neon glow, they splashed beer from pitchers, traded jokes and belted out lyrics to a Taylor Swift heartache anthem thundering overhead. As a night out, it had everything — except guys.
“This is so typical, like all nights, 10 out of 10,” said Kate Andrew, a senior from Albemarle, N.C. The experience has grown tiresome: they slip on tight-fitting tops, hair sculpted, makeup just so, all for the benefit of one another, Ms. Andrew said, “because there are no guys.”
North Carolina, with a student body that is nearly 60 percent female, is just one of many large universities that at times feel eerily like women’s colleges. Women have represented about 57 percent of enrollments at American colleges since at least 2000, according to a recent report by the American Council on Education.
At my college, the U. of Delaware, the numbers are almost identical: 58 percent female for years, and 60 percent in the largest college, Arts and Sciences. It’s that way most everywhere, other than super-elite colleges and ones that emphasize engineering and the like. Some time back, I posted on how the gender imbalance may play out in admissions offices: affirmative action for boys—the suspicion of which has led to an ongoing investigation of 19 schools by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
But the Times story does a great job with what I always wanted my students to write about, the way this plays out socially. (I sometimes have a feeling that students shy away from journalistic topics that are really interesting–as if that somehow made them less worthwhile. As if.) Most strikingly, it leads to strange, scary and poignant new romantic and sexual rituals. The Times reporter, Alex Williams, gets some killer quotes from girls and guys alike (as well as a few less interesting ones from the requisite talking head experts). To wit:
Jayne Dallas, a senior studying advertising who was seated across the table, grumbled that the population of male undergraduates was even smaller when you looked at it as a dating pool. “Out of that 40 percent, there are maybe 20 percent that we would consider, and out of those 20, 10 have girlfriends, so all the girls are fighting over that other 10 percent,” she said.
Needless to say, this puts guys in a position to play the field, and tends to mean that even the ones willing to make a commitment come with storied romantic histories. Rachel Sasser, a senior history major at the table, said that before she and her boyfriend started dating, he had “hooked up with a least five of my friends in my sorority — that I know of.”
“It causes girls to overanalyze everything — text messages, sideways glances, conversations,” said Margaret Cheatham Williams, a junior at North Carolina. “Girls will sit there with their friends for 15 minutes trying to figure out what punctuation to use in a text message.”
Garret Jones, another UNC senior, summed up the new math with admirable pith: ““It’s awesome being a guy,” he said.