The new campus rebels

They are the campus rebels, the young women who refuse to play by the rules laid down by a male-dominated culture.

They wish that more young men would focus on their minds and souls, instead of their bodies. They are tired of crude social games that serve the desires of men rather than the dreams of young women.

They are rebels, the religious women who struggle with the frat-boy patriarchy that rules the modern university campus on nights and weekends.

"There is a mini-revolt going on out there and you'll find it in the Christian groups that you find on most campuses," said Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. "The students in these independent religious groups -- especially the girls -- are the new countercultural revolutionaries at our modern secular universities."

That's the good news. The bad news is that if alternative religious groups didn't exist on most campuses, then these young women would have "nowhere else to go if they are looking for the kind of moral support that they need to find some way around the 'let's get drunk and hook up' scene," she said.

Secular and religious researchers have tried to describe the causes and the effects of this alcohol-fueled sexual mayhem on mainstream campuses.

Thus, publications ranging from Christianity Today to Rolling Stone have published reports on this issue, with predictably different verdicts. Much of the news coverage has focused on novelist Tom Wolfe's profane morality tale "I Am Charlotte Simmons," in which a brilliant Christian from the North Carolina mountains suffers a moral collapse during her freshman year on an elite campus that is famous for academics, basketball and sexist lacrosse players. Many critics noted a resemblance to Duke University.

College administrators have responded by focusing on alcohol abuse and its impact on campus life. However, they have failed to realize that alcohol is linked to other moral issues, said Whitehead, author of a book on a related topic, "Why There Are No Good Men Left." Administrators must understand that campus gender roles have been turned upside down, with mixed results.

Only a few decades ago, men ruled the classrooms on most campuses, stressed Whitehead, writing in the progressive Catholic journal Commonweal. There were more male students and more male professors, resulting in powerful networks that dominated academic life. Women, however, controlled campus social life, with all of its formal and informal rituals of dating and courtship.

Times have changed.

"Women now rule the classroom," argued Whitehead. "With the strict enforcement of laws prohibiting gender discrimination and sexual harassment, the classroom has become more egalitarian and merit based. Women have flourished academically in this well-regulated environment.

"On the other hand, men increasingly set the rules for an unregulated social life. ... They've streamlined the old system. They've eliminated the time-wasting efforts to attend to women's wishes and gotten down to the fundamentals of adolescent male desire: playing competitive games, drinking with buddies and having sex with lots of compliant women. They've also taken charge of party venues and themes: they rent off-campus party houses, stockpile massive quantities of alcohol, hire strippers and organize female wrestling and wet T-shirt competitions."

It's hard to party harder than the guys who make the rules and the girls who are willing to play by them.

Yet, when reporters and researchers ask the right questions, even many young women who are not religious sound stunned by the choices they have to make when it comes to alcohol, clothing and sex. One Duke coed told Rolling Stone: "I have done things that are completely inconsistent with the type of person I am, and what I value."

Whitehead said that these young women often sound like they have been abandoned, rather than "empowered." Their confused statements sound like they want help, but don't know how to say so.

"In many cases their moral compasses have become so disoriented that they can't even describe how they feel," said Whitehead. "These young women feel bad, but they can't pin down why they feel bad. They feel guilty, but they've been taught that there's no reason to feel guilty about anything. ...

"Many girls sound like they want a way out. If their own parents and churches won't help them, who will? It sure doesn't seem like their colleges are going to."