Beloit College List a Reminder of Rapidly Changing Worldview

By Kathy Gurchiek Sep 14, 2015
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Most students entering their freshman year of college in 2015 are 18 years old and were born in 1997. Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson could be their parents who, camcorders mounted on their shoulders like bazookas, recorded their baby steps.

These students were born the same year Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris, Mother Teresa died in Calcutta and Dolly the sheep became the first successfully cloned animal.

These cultural touchstones and others are among the latest Beloit College Mindset List from Ron Nief, Beloit’s public affairs director emeritus, and Tom McBride, a professor of English and Keefer Professor of the Humanities at the Wisconsin college. They released their first list in August 1998 as a humorous reminder to faculty to be aware of using dated references with their students.

The list has since become a catalog of the rapidly changing worldview of each new freshman class and has spawned two books by Nief and McBride, a website, a Facebook page, a YouTube page, and a Twitter hashtag.

It also serves as a reminder for employers looking to recruit and retain interns and employees from the youngest generation about the importance of being mindful of cultural and historical references they use in their communications.

“It is a list,” McBride said in a Beloit webcast, “for what has always been true, normal; what has always, in fact, been mainstream for entering college students.”

McBride singled out three items on this year’s list that he found particularly interesting:

“There’s always been Google. E-mail has become the new ‘formal’—they actually write formally on e-mail now. They get wild and wooly only in texting. And Wi-Fi is an entitlement; they have no idea what a modem is,” he said in the webcast.

“The very things that older generations think makes this class uneducable—that they text all the time, that they’re constantly surfing on the web, that they’re constantly on Facebook—actually makes them ... a generation that understands the connection between different ideas, and a very collaborative generation.”

Also among the 50 items of what is normal and true for the Class of 2019, according to their list:

  • Amazon has never been just a river in South America.
  • When these young men and women were born, cellphone usage was so expensive that families only used their large phones, usually in cars, for emergencies. 
  • Former President Jimmy Carter has always been a smiling elderly man who shows up on TV to promote fair elections and disaster relief.
  • The announcement of someone being the “first woman” to hold a position has only impressed their parents.
  • “PC” has come to stand for personal computer, not political correctness.
  • Cellphones have become so ubiquitous in class that teachers don’t know which students are using them to take notes and which ones are planning a party.
  • If you say “around the turn of the century,” they may well ask you, “which one?”
  • Teachers have always had to insist that term papers include other sources in addition to those found online. 
  • Humans have always had the ability to use implanted radio frequency ID chips—slightly larger than a grain of rice.
  • The medical use of marijuana has always been legal in a growing number of American states.
  • They have never licked a postage stamp.
  • There’s always been a Beloit College Mindset List.
Nief and McBride are the authors of The Mindset Lists of American History: From Typewriters to Text Messages, What Ten Generations of Americans Think Is Normal (Wiley and Sons, 2011) and The Mindset List of the Obscure: 74 Famously Forgotten Icons from A to Z (Sourcebooks, 2014). 

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her at KathyGurchiek@SHRMwriter.
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