In my college years, we had a sort of ritual every Tuesday night. Two dozen or more floormates would re-enact the Marx Brothers stateroom scene from "A Night at the Opera" by wedging themselves into my tiny residence hall room so they could squint at the latest episode of M*A*S*H on my 9-inch black-and-white TV. (If this sounds like one of those "Back in my day …" anecdotes, that's because it is.)
On other nights, without any Xboxes, iPods or websites to occupy our time, we would slide the particle-board door off a closet cabinet, place it atop a wastebasket to create a card table and deal out hands of hearts, pinochle or poker.
I was reminded of those dorm days last week, when one of the TV news shows that had been providing background noise grabbed my attention. A college student was explaining to a reporter about the nice living arrangements on her campus and how all the adults who toured her residence hall talked enviously about how good she had it compared with their austere college years.
The report related the details of the student housing features with a sinister, disapproving tone, and the point of view soon became obvious: Picture a guy, his crankiness ratcheted up to 11, waving a fist at those ungrateful kids who used to tromp on his lawn and now are thumbing their noses at him by luxuriating in amenity-laden residence halls.
That guy is a close relation to the angry citizen who stands up at a school board meeting to oppose construction of a new school with the argument that typically goes like this: "I went to a school with 40 kids in a class and we didn't have any of these other high-fallutin' gizmos, and I turned out fine." (Of course, no one actually follows up on the validity of that assertion, or what the definition of "fine" is.)
It is a puzzling argument to assert that because some conditions in the past were inferior, they should remain inferior forevermore. When you use that argument to try to prevent anyone from having any advantage you didn't have, it reeks of pettiness.
So when I look at some of the amenities now included in student housing, I'm amazed, but not jealous that their living arrangements will make their college years more enjoyable and even more productive. My 9-inch TV might seem archaic to today's students; still, I don't begrudge them their high-definition screens and other creature comforts. But a piece of advice from an old-timer—check out M*A*S*H—it holds up pretty well.
Kennedy is staff writer for AS&U.