Sunday Night Journal&mdash June 25, 2006

No Complaint, No Problem

One of my daughters just graduated from high school, and a few months ago we were visiting colleges. One large state school had invited her to enter a program advertised as providing, within the context of the big school, a sort of intensified liberal arts program like the one offered by St. John's College. All the students in this program, male and female, live in the same building, and we were given a tour of it.

The boys were separated from the girls only by a hallway. I asked about visitation. I was pretty sure I knew what the real practice would be, but I wanted to see what kind of answer the student who was conducting the tour would give me. She paused for a moment and said, "If there's no complaint, there's no problem."

Right, I thought. I know how that will work out. There would be no surer way to make yourself unpopular than to be the tattletale in that scenario.

Our daughter isn't going to that school, but I had a sad confirmation of my prediction a few days ago. I talked to someone whose daughter has just ended her first year at college (not the one described above, but a similar large state institution) in a state of serious depression which had sapped her motivation so badly that she did poorly in her second term and almost lost her scholarship.

I don't know the girl, but she's apparently brilliant, a National Merit Scholarship winner with math-science aptitudes and interests who wants to be an engineer. And I don't know the whole story. But I do know that she went to college excited about learning, and that she found herself living in an environment which, except for the fact that no money changed hands, might as well have been a brothel.

What is euphemistically called "partying" went on constantly in the whole dorm. But worse, her roommate's boyfriend was in the room at all hours, a sort of unregistered third resident of her room, with all that implies. And she felt that if she complained it would only cause trouble for her. "They'll think I'm a prude." Her mother asked if she couldn't ask the resident assistant (i.e. the person paid to keep order) privately to intervene. "No, she'll just laugh at me. Her boyfriend stays in her room, too."

It's not a new thing that the young person trying to avoid vice should be taunted and rejected by those who have embraced it. I recall my one year in a college dorm forty years ago, and the earnest evangelical young man who was laughed at because he wouldn't go in a room where Playboy centerfolds were on display.

What's different now is that the institution, and for that matter the society which sponsors it, offers such a person little or no moral support. It's like living in a society in which the police are in league with the criminals. At best this girl could have gotten a different room and roommate, but with the real likelihood that she would have ended up with the same difficulty, except that now she would bear a burden of ill will. If she had spoken out, she would have been considered the problem—that is the real implication of "no complaint, no problem."

So in the end there was no problem, so far as the institution was concerned: just a disoriented girl with an obsolete idea of what constitutes minimal decency. What a pretty world we've made, where vice is filled with self-esteem and virtue is expected to hang her head and keep to the shadows.



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