Book Review by Kam Williams

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My Freshman Year
What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student
By Rebekah Nathan
Cornell University Press
208 pp.
Hardcover, $24.00
ISBN: 0-8014-4397-0

“After more than 15 years of university teaching, I found that students had become increasingly confusing to me. How could some never take a note during class? And what about those who bring whole meals and eat and drink during class? Or those who seem to feel absolutely no embarrassment in putting their head or their feet on their desk and taking a nap during class?

I tried to make sense of what seemed bizarre behavior. Were we like that? Are students today different? Doesn’t it seem like they’re cheating more? They’re ruder? They’re less motivated? And more steeped in their own sense of entitlement? The list goes on…�
-- Excerpted from Chapter 1

Are the college students of today different from those of yesteryear? One would think so, given that they were raised on the incessant, often competing demands of assorted electronic media like the Internet, television, cell phones, computer games and Instant Messaging.

In fact, one anthropology professor found the behavior she observed in her classes so disturbing that she decided to put this generation of kids under her social scientist’s microscope. But because she knew not to trust them to answer any educator’s questions honestly, she decided to matriculate all over again in order to infiltrate the ranks of the student body.
Adopting an alias, she moved into a dorm, and attended classes, just like any other freshman. However, because she was now on the other side of the academic fence, she was able to experience, firsthand, the cultural forces at work which were creating this new type of collegian. And, as one of them, her new classmates freely shared the particulars of their study, dating, eating, sexual and other social habits.  

 After spending a year making intimate observations and compiling data at an unnamed university, Rebekah Nathan (not her real name), recounts her experience and makes some fascinating observations in My Freshman Year
What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student. In the book, the author finds herself sympathizing with the predicament of her “over-optioned� and “multi-tasking� younger peers, who appear to be almost lost in a world which lacks a true sense of community.

Among Nathan’s surprising findings is that, compared to students of a couple of decades ago, today’s students are both studying and socializing less. Why? Because a greater percentage of them are working at part-time jobs than ever before. Plus, she weighs on such interesting topics as dorm life, job prospects, sexuality, alcohol, and the degree of fraternizing across cultural and color lines. This compelling account of current college life will prove to be invaluable reading for students, parents and anyone else interested in the state of higher education in America today.

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