Date of Award
Master of Liberal Arts (MLA)
The pivotal, formative years of typical undergraduates, ages 18-22, represent a time when students mold their distinctive identities, social personalities, and intellects more intensively than during any other period of their lives. Developmental theorists Arthur W. Chickering and Linda Reisser call this process “journeying toward individuation—the discovery and refinement of one’s unique way of being—and also toward communion with other individuals and groups, including the larger national and global society” (35). In today’s college climate, students flummox and astound parents, professors, and researchers due to their individual immaturity and disengagement with learning. Although these complaints identify nothing new in America, the fact that these issues remain, centuries after the formation of the country’s colleges, shows both their current and historical relevance. Within the undergraduate realm, the continuation of outmoded social and intellectual traditions has led to adverse outcomes for generations of students. Continual cultural nostalgia for four (or more) years of adolescent mischief and self-indulgence encourages class after class of college students to put peer activities as first priority and academics far behind their society bids, alcohol-fueled parties, and sexual conquests. Moreover, even after decades of pedagogical and learning studies, today’s classroom practices do little to amend ineffective curriculums or combat cheating epidemics, grade inflation, and the diminished value of a college degree.
Patterns of dysfunctional behavior in the lifestyles of American undergraduates have been expressed throughout the past century in several important novels devoted to the college experience itself. These works reveal the sociocultural issues and educational flaws within the country’s destructive college environments. Inner turbulence of the typical college age individual fluctuates in accordance with the perceived successes and failures of his or her social interactions during this critical period of self-adjustment and identity formation, and writers who depict these struggles discerningly connect fact and fiction. As F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Amory Blaine observes in This Side of Paradise (1920), from city to city across America, college youths create “one vast juvenile intrigue”—a uniquely defined subculture of American life informed by the nature of its colleges (67).
Chair and Committee
Andrew Brown, Matt Erlin
Jones, Noelle P., "American Undergraduates Undone: Social and Intellectual Dysfunction on Campus" (2016). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 696.
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