Monday, February 8, 2010

New Math Doesn't Quite Add Up

Yesterday morning the New York Times ran a story, "The New Math on Campus," which claims that the percentages of men and women at Carolina and many other colleges and universities are "skewing" something the story calls "dating culture."

I'm reluctant to complain about this story, because the reporter seemed like a nice guy when I talked with him, and because he no doubt has a tough and thankless job, especially nowadays. Still, I think the story gets a few things wrong.

The first is that this "new" math isn't so new. As I told the reporter, the percentages of men and women in the entering class at Carolina haven't changed for nearly thirty years. If these percentages are "new," then they're new in the way that, say, cable television or microwave popcorn is new. I'm waiting for the next big headline: Orville Redenbacher Is Changing How We Snack.

The second is that "dating culture," from what I can tell, has been skewed and on the skids for a pretty long time. My friends who have college-aged sons and daughters sometimes express amazement at the apparent dearth of dating at the schools their children attend. But the only thing amazing is their amazement, because dating on college campuses, regardless of the male-female ratio, has been dead for a long time. At the college I attended thirty years ago, which was then split evenly between men and women, most students seemed to date roughly once a year, and then only when a formal forced their hand.

The third thing that seemed off to me about this story -- and I'm just going to state this as an impression -- is that the students who were quoted don't sound much like the ones I know here at Carolina. Our students, men and women both, have too much going on, and too much going for them, to spend too much time time agonizing over whether Mr. or Ms. Right is right around the corner. They're too busy using the precious few years they have in Chapel Hill to do what matters most to them: study hard; serve humanity; solve the world's problems.

If you visit us and talk with these students, I'm guessing they'll tell you they lead happy, full, and meaningful lives. They're doing what they feel called to do in the world -- and they're doing it alongside classmates, men and women both, whom they like and admire and respect.

That's the real story here at Carolina -- and although it's not a new one, either, I think it's worth repeating.

This morning's Daily Tar Heel features the following reactions from students:

“I think in general the ratio is skewed, but the implications about dating are not true.”
Kelli Daffron, senior pychology and anthropology major

“I think it’s a little over-the-top. I think of Carolina girls as classier than that.”
Emily Noonan, junior business major

“I’m embarrassed by the things in that article. It’s dis-empowering, to say the least. It reduces dating to numbers.”
John Reitz, senior English and drama major

“That’s not the image we need to be portraying. Those quotes are really demeaning to women.”
Jordan Swain, senior communications studies major