As a former undergraduate student who was active in campus activities and president of his fraternity, Murray Sperber thought he understood student culture.
But as the professor of English and American Studies at Indiana University he began to do research for his book, Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education, Sperber found almost no research about student life.
Through his research Sperber found two University of California at Berkeley sociologists, Burton Clark and Martin Trow, who make a very serious commitment to study students.
In Sperber's March 15 speech at the University Center Shiloh Room, entitled, Who Do You Hang With? College Students' Subcultures, he explained some of the findings of the two sociologists.
Clark and Trow divided student life into four subcultures known as the collegiate, the academic, the vocational and the rebel cultures.
They defined the collegiate subculture as being one with lots of fraternity and sorority participation, parties, and football.
Teachers and courses and grades are in this picture, but somewhat dimly and in the background, Sperber said.
The academic subculture has students that work hard, get the best grades, and let the world of ideas and knowledge reach them, he said, while the vocational subculture is one where students often work their way through school in order to obtain a diploma in a better profession than they could otherwise demand.
Clark and Trow categorize the rebel subculture as having aggressive, non-conformist detachment from the college community and its faculty while being deeply involved with ideas.
It was the collegiate subculture that started at the beginning of higher education, Sperber said.
According to Sperber, many of the first students to attend college were the sons of rich families and they basically went to college for social contacts or good times or parties; not very much education.
Sperber said in the 19th century fraternities and sororities developed and became popular. The sports teams the fraternities organized also led to college sports.
So it's really this culture that is responsible for college sports, and it's long been the main supporter of college sports, Sperber said.
As for the academic group, Sperber said this began in the beginning of higher education as well, but this culture evolved from ministers. He said many of the first colleges were religious and the teachers were ministers.
Since some of the students attending were sons of ministers who wanted to follow in their fathers' footsteps, they tried to please the professors by doing their academic tasks, Sperber said.
The collegiates in many ways mocked them, Sperber said. The collegiates have always been hostile to the academics. In many ways the academics returned the hostility ad saw themselves in opposition to the world of the collegiates.
The vocational subculture was one that began in the 20th century with immigrants attempting to move up in the population, Sperber said. They often had to work full-time, making it hard to fully engage in academics.
One of the interesting things in terms of college sports is athletes at this level are vocational students, Sperber said. They're working 30, 40, 50 hours a week in very intensive training programs and it's very hard for them to sometimes get an education.
As for the rebel culture, Sperber found it interesting that Clark and Trow called this the non-conformist subculture.
There's no mainstream culture in which to conform to in many ways, Sperber said.
Sperber said he felt rebel is really a better term and that the Beats were the first college rebels of the modern world.
So Clark and Trow say, and I agree with, collegiates pursue fun, academic students seek knowledge and vocationals are fixed on a diploma, Sperber said in summary.
Sperber said there is a lot more movement and shifting of students within these groups in this era.
I think that's what college should be about, Sperber said. It's a time of experimentation because it's the only time in your life where you really have the freedom to try these various modes of behavior and such.
Sperber said people must remember that these are types of subcultures and not types of students that have been classified.
Stereotyping undergraduates serves no purpose, Sperber said.
The Indiana professor also said he noticed an existing gulf between faculty and students on campuses.
Faculty this day and age are often very separate from the collegiate culture and that culture includes college sports, Sperber said.
I always tell my colleagues and other faculty that it's very important to begin under the premise that every student is here to learn, and they may be in another subculture and may have been turned off form learning at some various point, but if you can design your course with enough student participation you can really reach them.
College subculture explained
Published: Mon Mar 26, 2001 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 03:34 p.m.