“I want to experience better mental health than my peers as an adult. My sexual choices now are making a difference.” The poster I spied in Kent and Hamilton shows a young woman smiling as someone else puts his hands on her head—whether this is a mental health technique or a sexual one, I couldn’t say. The glossy broadsheet, an advertisement for the Love and Fidelity Network, explains that the more sex you have in college, the less stable your marriage will be. The poster further claims that married adults are on average less depressed and less anxious than the unmarried. “Translation,” it summarizes, “the sexual choices you make now may make the difference in your mental health later.”
The reasoning of this poster offends on a number of levels, but what intrigued me most was its main hook—“I want to experience better mental health than my peers as an adult.” As it turns out, the poster is part of a larger campaign designed to vaunt all the diverse rewards of a sexless college career. “I want to experience 20% higher relationship satisfaction and 15% better sexual quality in my future marriage than my peers,” another poster declares. “I want to be 34% less likely than my peers to experience separation or divorce.”
Do I? Do we? Naturally, I want to be free from mental illness, not divorced, and satisfied in my relationships with others. But more sane, more satisfied, and less divorced than my apparently miserable peers? What kind of peers would those be?
Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that might ultimately end public universities’ freedom to use race as a factor in college admissions. Abigail Fisher, a white woman, is suing the University of Texas for allegedly rejecting her in favor of less-qualified minority applicants. The court is more conservative now than it was in 2003, when it narrowly endorsed affirmative action as constitutional, so experts speculate that the court might reverse its earlier approval.
What seems to be at stake are two visions of what college is for, and what it should be like. If the purpose of college is to make each individual as good as he or she can be, as someone like Fisher might argue, what matters is that the best colleges take the best students, who can make the greatest use of their top-notch resources.
But what if the purpose of a college is to make its community as good as it can be? What if the expectation was that we would learn less from books than we do from one another? What if the product of a university is not the leaders of the future, but a conversation that takes place in the present? Then it seems only natural that such a community should embrace as many voices, as wide a range of experience, and as many different kinds of people as possible.
Merit can’t be adequately judged by things like test scores and high school GPAs, which may be influenced by socioeconomic disparities or societal prejudices. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the students who were accepted instead of Abigail Fisher were genuinely less qualified. Let’s recognize that, had the Columbia admissions officers seen fit, they could have filled our classes entirely with academically perfect specimens.
They didn’t. We are here in spite of our imperfections. We are diverse, opinionated, experienced, and flawed. We are drawn down to earth by our failings, forced to lean on one another for study help and moral support and hope.
That’s how college makes us the best people we can be—people who value the opinions with which we disagree, who know something beyond the confines of our own limited experience. Who know how to depend on one another.
The Love and Fidelity Network campaign, which the group’s website says appeared last month at “19 colleges and universities (including five Ivy Leagues),” pegs us all wrong. Its organizers imagine that we are a self-interested, competitive, future-focused student body, full of individuals who care mostly about being the best that they individually can be. After all, it’s hard to imagine how one makes it to this campus if one is not all of these things.
And yet somehow we’re not those things. I went to a bitterly competitive high school fueled by too much money and not enough compassion. It seems to me that here, we all hope for the best for each other, not the worst. And in a thousand different ways, we make it happen together.
So no, I don’t want to experience better mental health than my peers as an adult. I want my peers to join me in enjoying the boons of good mental health, of physical and intellectual vitality, of satisfaction and accomplishment. And if we are touched by depression, or stress, or divorce, or sadness or crisis or disaster, let us bear the burdens together, not just as peers, but as friends.
Love and Fidelity Network, that goes for all of us. Even those of us as selfish as you.
Samuel E. Roth is a Columbia College senior majoring in history and political science. He is a former Spectator editor in chief. We Are Not Alone runs alternate Thursdays.