Off to College
Fresh freshman days.


D-Day arrived last week at my house in the form of delivering my daughter Maia to college. She begins her freshman year this week at UC San Diego, where she’s a Russian/Soviet-studies major. I mentioned on my blog that we went down a day early, for orientation, and was at first I was a bit alarmed that one of my readers (a graduate-studies administrator, as it happens) had noticed some students outside her campus-office window being led through some odd orientation exercises: The students were instructed to take “two steps back if you’re a woman. Two steps back if you’re Hispanic. Four steps back if you’re a ‘non-Hispanic of color.’ Two steps back if your family is poor.” Etc.

“In expensive San Diego,” my correspondent noted, “this causes every student who’s ever been denied anything to take two giant steps back. It ends with students scattered all over the lawn, looking bewildered.”

Fortunately, Maia experienced nothing like that — and a good thing too, as she’s already busy recruiting for College Republicans and wouldn’t have taken kindly to the exercise. (She’s also been trying to arrange visiting speakers, and so far has managed to corral Rob Long and Andrew Breitbart.) But UCSD — which in any case seems to be less knee-jerk p.c. than the rest of the academy these days — is modeled on the Oxford system of several small colleges within a larger university, each with its own requirements.

I presume that the “two steps back” exercise was for the kids in diversity-obsessed Thurgood Marshall College, or perhaps another college with easier requirements than Eleanor Roosevelt College, where Maia’s enrolled. ERC demands (among other things) proficiency in a foreign language, so I’d imgaine that leaves less time for victimology exercises.

But sometimes all that can backfire. One of Maia’s new friends is a girl who began UCSD as a liberal, but found these sort of diversity exercises so ridiculous she became a conservative. One of the biggest changes, by the way, between college now and then is that Maia already has dozens of new friends and aqaintances through Facebook, some of whom she’s already met in person here in L.A. this summer. This is in stark contrast to my first year at UCLA almost 30 years ago, where in the pre-Internet days it really was very hard entering a giant university not knowing anyone.

That’s far from Maia’s situation. Her college adventures so far have involved buying two goldfish (that immediately died — she forgot to dechlorinate the water) for her dorm room; encountering some dope-smoking, drunken kids while wandering around outside her dorm at 1 A.M. because she couldn’t sleep; hanging around in a hot tub with some older sorority girls at their off-campus La Jolla apartment, where she drank a little white wine.

I don’t mind her drinking a bit of wine, as that’s essentially an civilized adult activity and it’s not like I wouldn’t do the same thing myself if I were lounging in a hot tub with friends myself. But I’m glad she immediately excused herself when the bags of weed came out at the dorm room next door. I also don’t like this business of taking a late-night walk. (“I couldn’t sleep!” “So go into your dorm-suite living room and read or watch TV.”)

I’ve also had to tell her sharply that her notion of attending a party at UC Riverside just because she was invited is ridiculous; there’s enough to adjust to at her own school without making plans to go to parties at other schools two hours away. I’m glad she’s already had more fun her first few days at college than I did my entire first freshman year, but enough is enough already.

I delivered Maia to college with the help of our friend and ex-tenant Danny, who’s also the new business partner/roommate of my 77-year-old father, who lives in the guest unit beneath my house. Sometimes I think I am such a kindly landlord that if I ever have to rent out part of my duplex again, I’ll put in the ad: “And if things go south in your living situation, you can always move in with my dad!”

But we really enjoy having Danny here. He’s a rock drummer — he used to play with this rather well-known Orange County band, but pop music is one of my vast areas of ignorance so I can’t remember which one — and a Republican. (How’s that for a Hollywood hyphenate?) I’m not up to long drives these days and so feel quite thankful we have Danny to help, as my dad can get crotchety, especially if he has to spend much time surrounded by kids. Also, Danny got everything moved out of the car trunk into Maia’s dorm in less than an hour with not a single grumble.

She packed everything herself, and all she forgot were: Pillows, a blanket, the fitted sheet, her desk lamp, her dayplanner/organizer and her jeans jacket. Danny and I thought of running out to Target or someplace to get the pillows and such but then I decided against it, because how else will she learn to be more careful packing next time? Plus we only had a couple of hours to use the hotel jacuzzi before the sun went down, so we just sent the forgotten stuff via UPS when we got back home. I guess it never killed anyone to be a little less than perfectly comfortable for a few days.

We drove back up to Los Angeles the next day, but unfortunately most of the other families stayed on an extra night, so Maia’s dorm was pretty empty of suitemates her first night there. “They’re all in hotels with their moms,” she said plaintively when she called, but the other girls did show up later.

In any case, those new UCSD dorms are much nicer than the barracks-style ones I remember from UCLA, so she really doesn’t have much to complain about. And the food now seems far better, too. And there’s a free shuttle service to points of interest around La Jolla and San Diego…

But, O.K., enough. I’m going to have to remind myself to stop before I start lecturing Maia about how I had to walk 20 miles to college in the snow when I was her age. Which in any case would be ridiculous, as I didn’t leave southern California any more than she did.

 — Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.