How Not To Alienate The Class of 2017

Aug 29, 2013

Ron Nief and Tom McBride, co-authors of the annual Mindset List
Credit Beloit College

Remember this movie quote?

I've got their disciplinary files right here. Who dropped a whole truckload of fizzies into the varsity swim meet? Who delivered the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner? Every Halloween, the trees are filled with underwear. Every spring, the toilets explode.

If you do, you're part of a shrinking population that remembers Vernon Wormer, the sinister Dean of Faber College in National Lampoon's Animal House.

This film was a touchstone for those who came of age in the 1980s. But professors, speakers and politicians (and, yes, public radio reporters) who refer to this film risk alienating the Class of 2017.

How can aging professionals avoid the creeping malady known as Hardening of the References?

The authors of Beloit College's annual Mindset List want to help. Every year since 1998, Ron Nief created a list of cultural references common to incoming college freshmen. In recent years, Nief was joined by English professor Tom McBride. Here are some highlights from the Class of 2017:

4. As they started to crawl, so did the news across the bottom of the television screen.

13. PayPal has replaced a pen pal as a best friend on line.

And Number One:

Eminem and LL Cool J could show up at parents’ weekend.

Nief shared an anecdote about co-author McBride, who used to teach the 1994 film Pulp Fiction. "He's come to realize," Nief says, "that students just look at him. That film was made before they were born and it doesn't connect."

The work of Nief and McBride spawned an audio series of related insights called Mindset Moments, produced by independent reporter Paul Messing. To hear an interview with Nief about this year's list, click the audio link at the top of this story.

Dean Wormer had the first word, so it seems fair to give him the last. It's a perfect example of an outdated reference, guaranteed to fly over the heads of the Class of 2017:

You're out! Finished at Faber! Expelled! I want you off this campus at nine o'clock Monday morning, and I've contacted your local draft boards and told them that you were all, all eligible for military service.