It shouldn’t be this way, but the well-to-do tend to dominate public conversations in this country. The result has been a national preoccupation with the comfort, safety and psychological health of children like theirs — that is, children who go to college.
Thus, the students’ problems get customized attention. Government asks: How can we protect women on campus from sexual assault? How can we stop students who drink too much or are “underage”?
Much has been written about the “two Americas.” One of the sharper divides separates the college-bound from the rest.
It’s hard to believe that sexual predators roam more freely at the dorms than in society at large. Or that there’s more drunkenness around student hangouts than at working-class bars.
What’s striking isn’t so much the worry over kids in college as the lack of similar concern over the other, usually less privileged, young people who don’t go to college. When their bad behavior spills over, police are called. But when students act likewise, their cases may go to college administrators and their teams of counselors.
Clearly, the blanket of protection thrown over 19-year-olds in college is not extended to 19-year-olds working full time at a Target checkout.
And they are in the majority. Most Americans (58 percent) do not obtain an associate or bachelor’s degree. And half the kids who do go to college commute from home.
But listen to who gets the attention in President Obama’s recent speech calling for more action on sexual violence at colleges:
“We’ve been working on campus sexual assault for several years,” he said, “but the issue of violence against women is now in the news every day.”
And the news stories he referred to largely involved professional athletes, whose beating victims — women and children — have spent little, if any, time on a campus.
Strange that a kind of violence directed at all groups of women has brought forth initiatives to benefit the generally more fortunate.
Earlier this year, the administration focused a task force on the issue of sexual assaults on campus. It urged the institutions to toughen their policies, encourage women to report sexual violence and protect the women’s identities. It threatened fines against colleges that do not comply. And it set up a website just for those in higher education, NotAlone.gov.
Rape and other sexual violence are serious crimes. They belong in the criminal justice system. But many students want their cases overseen by the supposedly softer hand of college administrators — often to avoid ruining the life of the alleged assailant, who may have been a friend.
In effect, college women are offered two justice systems to choose from. Non-students have one.
As for drinking problems, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has also tailored its services for the academic crowd. Its task force recommended, among other things, programs to help students moderate their drinking and limiting the number of liquor stores near colleges. And it set up a special website, CollegeDrinkingPrevention.gov.
The task force did ask, “Why target college student drinking?” And it offered reasons: Students die or are injured in alcohol-related accidents. Millions of them drive under the influence, and large numbers are assaulted by other drunken students.
How does that drinking experience differ from the noncollegiate drinking experience? The abuses and attendant problems sound exactly the same, so why not treat college students like everyone else — and like the adults they’re supposed to be?
We all know why. The powers value the well-being of college kids more highly than that of their working-class cohorts. Of course, it’s not fair.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.