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The anti-alma mater: 'from barroom to bedroom we stagger'

“Oh, Mount Holyoke, we pay thee tuition,

In the fervor of youth that’s gone wrong,

Each year it gets higher and higher,

My God, alma mater, how long?

So from barroom to bedroom we stagger,

And united in free love for all,

Our drinks are too strong, and our morals gone,

Mount Holyoke what’s happening to me?

These are the lyrics in the first verse of the school song known as the “Anti Alma Mater” of Mount Holyoke College. Founded in 1837, Mount Holyoke was the first of the women’s colleges established in the 19th century known as the “Seven Sisters.” It served as a model for the others that followed: Vassar, Wellesley, Smith, Radcliffe, Bryn Mawr and Barnard.

I entered Mount Holyoke in September 1972 and graduated with my Bachelor of Arts degree in June 1976. Having attended Baltimore County co-ed public schools from first through 12th grade, I selected the single-gender Mount Holyoke primarily because the women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s had awakened something in me. Perhaps it was a desire to experience academic empowerment at a college with a remarkable reputation in liberal arts education for women. I had never felt stifled during my high school experience, but I was ready for something completely different.

Shortly after arriving on Mount Holyoke’s picturesque Massachusetts campus, I found myself totally captivated by the environment. Classes were thought-provoking. Role models were plentiful. We freshmen were reminded to pronounce our school’s name as “whole yolk” rather than “holy oak.” The dean of students told us, “Think of the entire yellow part of an egg rather than a sacred tree.”

It wasn’t until my first fraternity party at our “brother” school, Amherst College, that I realized I was entering completely new social territory. The same dean had told us, “Remember, ladies the ‘h’ is silent. Pronounce it ‘Am-erst’.”

The dean would have been wise to encourage awareness of more than pronunciation. I was about to experience my first party with a new breed in my party-going experience. I was about to meet Amherst College preppies.

Having gone to public school, I had many friends who were boys. For some, I felt romantic attraction; others had been my close friends and classmates. My extended family included more male than female cousins. Prior to walking onto the Amherst campus, my only experience with the word “preppy” was hearing Ali MacGraw deliver her famous line, “Hello, Preppy” to Ryan O’ Neal in the 1970 hit “Love Story.”

So, there we were, empowered MHTs, a supposed term of endearment used by Amherst men to describe the “Mount Holyoke Type.” It wasn’t long before I learned the rules of their game. I recall one self-impressed Amherst PMT (pre-med type) telling me, “Smith to bed; Mount Holyoke to wed.” Stereotyping the reputations of women was supposedly all in fun, boys being boys. Catch phrases implied that students from Smith were more sexually available. MHTs were the marrying kind. This was decades before Beyonce would sing those famous lyrics, “if you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it.”

Such was the reputation of the MHTs in this apparently narrow view of certain hard-drinking fraternity boys. (It is important to state that this recklessness was not typical of most men on the campus.)

If anyone needs a quick refresher course in rowdy campus party behavior, revisit the movie “Animal House.” The fictitious Emily Dickinson College was intended as a parody of Mount Holyoke. Poet Emily Dickinson was one of its most famous students.

A paradox to me was our college’s “Anti Alma Mater.” I have no idea if it is still in the repertoire of Mount Holyoke songs in 2018. I hope not. There is no dignity in singing, “from barroom to bedroom we stagger.” Yes, the song was considered satirical then. But I now ask myself what purpose was served in pairing the empowerment we were developing in the 1970s with lyrics that are so self-degrading, especially, “our drinks are too strong, and our morals gone.”

Basic standards of civility, respect and personal responsibility transcend time and culture, even at parties. As this week unfolds, our nation must examine essential questions about character before brushing aside an accusation of sexual assault by a potential Supreme Court justice.

Carolyn Buck is a local writer and performing arts educator. Her email is bucklaz@aol.com.

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