FamilyLife Today® Podcast

What is it Really Like on Today’s College Campus?

with Elizabeth Marquardt | August 14, 2007
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What's it really like on today's college campus? Dennis Rainey talks with author Elizabeth Marquardt, a vice president of the Center for Marriage and Family at the Institute for American Values, about the research she's done with college students about their relationships. Hear Elizabeth tell what the ultimate goal is for most college students and what the hindrances are to achieving that goal.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • What's it really like on today's college campus? Dennis Rainey talks with author Elizabeth Marquardt, a vice president of the Center for Marriage and Family at the Institute for American Values, about the research she's done with college students about their relationships. Hear Elizabeth tell what the ultimate goal is for most college students and what the hindrances are to achieving that goal.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

What’s it really like on today’s college campus?

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What is it Really Like on Today’s College Campus?

With Elizabeth Marquardt
August 14, 2007
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(Britney Spears sings "The Hook Up")

Bob: According to author and researcher, Elizabeth Marquardt, it means whatever the young man and the young woman want it to mean.

Elizabeth: When you go out to college campuses, and you talk to young women on campus about what a hookup means, you get all kinds of explanations.  The big truth about hooking up is that it's a phrase that is useful because it is ambiguous.  When someone says to their friend, "I hooked up with so-and-so last night," no one really knows exactly what that means.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 14th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll talk today about what parents need to know about the whole hookup culture on college campuses and what really is happening.  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  There was a book came out a year or two ago, I don't remember exactly when, and I wanted to read it, and I didn't want to read it, you know, it was one of those books – I saw it in a bookstore, and I thought, "Man, I should probably read this, but I don't know that I really want to read it."

 It was by the author, Tom Wolfe, who wrote "The Bonfire of the Vanities," and a number of novels that really reflect what's going on in our culture, and it was a book called "I Am Charlotte Simmons."  Did you ever see it on bookstore stands?

Dennis: I did not, but you and I have talked about it before.  That's the only way I've heard about it, but you've talked about it enough times, I think it's time for me to get the book.

Elizabeth: Oh – go ahead, sorry.

Bob: No, I want to get a recommendation from our guest today as to whether we should read this.

Dennis: Go ahead and introduce her, and then let's ask her real quick.

Bob: Elizabeth Marquardt joins us on FamilyLife Today.  She is the director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values.  She is an author and a researcher, and I guess you read the book, right?

Elizabeth: I did.

Dennis: And you rolled your eyes when …

Bob: In fact, you moaned …

Dennis: … when I was saying I should get a copy.

Elizabeth: Just because, as a parent, or just anybody, it's hard reading, but I think Tom Wolfe is brilliant, and I think he did a terrific job of painting this portrait on a campus that is a lot like Duke University but it's not necessarily Duke University.

Bob: It's the story of a young woman …

Elizabeth: … he did it right, yeah.

Bob: … who goes to college and gets involved in a culture that you describe in the study that you did called "Hooking Up, Hanging Out, and Hoping for Mr. Right."  Would you say that what he paints in the novel reflects what you found as you did your research study?

Elizabeth: Yes. He tells the story of one young woman.  I think there are other stories that can be told, but in trying to sort of tell the narrative of one life, I think it's clear he did his research, not only reading studies like this, but he spent a lot of time on campuses and went to a lot of parties.  I always wonder how Tom Wolfe in his white suit showing up at the – you know, he's in his 60s or 70s at that point, showing up at his daughter's campus parties – how that went over.  But he clearly was paying attention.  I think he got it right.

Bob: Your study was designed to explore the relationship culture on the college campus from a woman's perspective and overriding the whole study, and I found this very interesting – the vast majority of young women on the college campus today have marriage as an ultimate goal, don't they?

Elizabeth: They do, and a lot of people don't know this because no one thinks to ask them.  In fact, some people were offended when we released this report, that we had asked young women – yes or no, is marriage an important goal for you?  That, alone, was …

Dennis: Offended.

Elizabeth: Offended that we would even talk to them about marriage.  What are we doing talking to college women about marriage?  It might distract them from their professional goals of, you know, they're not there to think about marriage.  There's almost an agreement among their elders that you shouldn't even raise the topic with them because …

Dennis: … that's interesting …

Elizabeth: … the advice is don't get married too soon, keep your options open – those are the big things.

Dennis: Well, they're even saying something different than that.  They're saying set your goal to be your career.  Don't even think of defining your life around relationships.

Elizabeth: Right, and then these young women have their professional aspirations head that way when they're ready to think about marriage.  The right guy might or might not be around, and then, even if he is, you know, women have this biological clock, and sometimes they start running into other problems, which brings us to another report that we'll talk about at some point.

 But when we asked young women how they feel about marriage, 83 percent said marriage is a very important goal of mine, not the only goal, it's not the only thing they want to do in life, but the majority of them agree marriage is an important goal for them, and 62 percent said, "I would like to meet my future husband at college."  Not that they want to get married their sophomore year or even the day they graduate, but this would seem to be a nice time to meet other young men with similar goals and aspirations and most of you are unconnected, and it's a good time to meet people, you'd think.  So marriage is on their minds, but no one is talking to them about it.

Bob: And your study seems to indicate that if you wanted to have a healthy, happy lifelong committed marriage relationship, the college campus is not the place to go today to support that goal or to point you in that direction.  Relationships are taken in a completely different direction there.

Elizabeth: In general, they are.  I will say that there are individual students who are able, through their faith, often to forge a way through this and to meet other like-minded persons and to form healthy relationships and often meet their future spouse at college.

 But, overall, the norms on campuses do not support and actually harm, I think, the marriage goals of our young women, particularly this hooking up thing – one of the things that just astonished me about it – I actually come from a fairly laid-back background, so I wasn't all that surprised to hear about hooking up, and I went to college, too, and none of this was very unfamiliar to me, in a sense, but what really troubled me, even as a somewhat liberal person, was hearing young women talk about the goal of the hookup is to have a sexual encounter with someone without feeling anything for that person, and if you feel something for the person, you're the one with the problem.

 And so these women would say, "I had to stop the hookup thing because I would hook up with this guy, I'd see him the next day on the library or the cafeteria, and he would ignore me, and that would hurt my feelings, and I'd be all torn up about it, and it was clear to me I just couldn't get with this hookup thing.  I just couldn't do it.

 If you have feelings for the person, you're the one with the problem, and this attempt in the hookup to separate sexual activity of some kind from feeling was what really troubled me, and I asked myself how many times can you do that?  How many times can you put a box around your heart and give someone your body in some way and not your heart – how many times can you do that and that not impact your ability to form a trust, healthy, happy marriage later on?

Bob: I don't think you could do it once very effectively, you know?

Dennis: It's interesting, in the '60s and '70s, on the college campus, it seemed, when I was there, that it sought to separate commitment from the sex act and from engaging in that activity.  Now you're saying we're going a step further.  We're trying to remove the emotions.

Elizabeth: Yes, and I want to say there are nice guys, and we looked at the phenomenon of the nice guys, too, and one young woman, she said to me, "You know, my friends and I talk about it.  It's like, well, Jeremy's a nice guy, and Joey's a nice guy, and Billy's a nice guy, but we don't really go for the nice guys.  We just kind of go for the players."  So I just want to put in a word for the nice guys who are trying to do it right in a culture that's not helping them, either.

 So a guy who wants to court a woman and send her flowers and call her up and send her e-mails, sometimes he's looked at as kind of like a stalker, you know?  He's a little too persistent and what's his problem, you know?

Dennis: A stalker?

Elizabeth: Yes, or you ask a girl out on a date before you've even hung out together or something, and it's kind of – it's a funny thing …

Bob: Nice guys are weird, basically.

Elizabeth: Nice guys are kind of weird. You don't know what to make of them.  The player is the reigning type on campus.  The player …

Dennis: And the player is?

Elizabeth: The guy who hooks up a lot.

Dennis: It's the guy who wants sex without any commitment.

Elizabeth: Right.

Dennis: Just get together, have sex, not feel anything …

Elizabeth: And that's the player.

Bob: And the girls are looking around and going, "He's desirable," but there's another part of them going, "Well, no, he's not," because he's a player.

Elizabeth: Women, in a sense, have always been attracted to the bad boys – you know, with James Dean, and long before that, many examples.  So we need a courtship culture, not just to guide the men but also to guide the women as well – that, sure, there's a part of us, you know, it's the same way that we want an all-you-can-eat buffet, we want to eat too much.  There's a part of us that are drawn to, kind of, like, the dangerous side of life and overdoing it.

Dennis: I want to stop you because you said earlier that when you were six years old, you were a feminist.  Now, I want you to just hear what you just said.  You just said, "We need a courtship culture."  Elizabeth, do you really believe that?

Elizabeth: That we need a courtship culture?

Dennis: Yes.

Elizabeth: In the sense I believe we need a guiding dialog initiated by the elders, and that might sound a little too soft for some, but I do respect – I'm a very independent woman, and I like my independence, and I like strong women, and so that's not going to change for me as something that's important to me, but I also know that I need, and we all need, lasting relationships for our own sake and especially for our children's sake.

 And so we have to find a way among the sexes to balance those individual desires for – you know, just to satisfy, you know, lust, with our desire to love and be loved in a lasting way that is good for us and good for society, but it is especially good for our children.  And how do we balance all that out?  That's kind of my question.

 So I think when it comes to a culture of courtship, we need a guiding dialog and by that I mean I think that parents need not just to tell their kids what to do, but they need to know what's going on in their kids' lives, and that's where I think research is just one piece of that.

 I had so many young women come up to me when I would talk on campuses about this report and say to me, "My parents don't know any of this.  They don't know anything that you wrote about.  They don't know what's going on here at all."

 And I would say, kind of not really tongue-in-cheek, I'd say, "Well, do you want to maybe just send them a copy of the report, you know?"  And they'd go, "Yeah, maybe I should do that," because they didn't really want all this to be a secret from their parents.

 They were hurting, and they were confused, and they didn't know what to make of it, and they kind of felt like their parents weren't asking questions and didn't really care – that their parents were kind of operating on the assumptions from their own experience 30 years before and mostly not saying very much because maybe they were divorced or they had made their own mistakes or whatever.  They didn't know what to say, and the women often felt very alone.

 And so when I look at what we need, I think we need the older generation to take the time to be uncomfortable to engage …

Dennis: There you go.

Elizabeth: … with the younger generation and where they are and then not just to listen and learn but also to say something – to take the risk to say something, because the young women who said to us, "I was raised with high expectations about how men should treat me.  They didn't hook up.  They knew that they should expect better than this."

Dennis: Yes, bingo, and the parents had trained them to expect that.

Elizabeth: Absolutely.  The young people who are listening, they're rolling their eyes, and they're looking away, but they're listening.

Bob: I'm just curious – is the 36-year-old independent, strong, social scientist, Elizabeth Marquardt surprised at the conservative findings – are you surprised to hear you saying what you're saying considering that you were a six-year-old feminist, and I'm imagining when you were a 20-year-old college student, you probably rolled your eyes at a bunch of the stuff that you're saying today.

Elizabeth: As a 20-year-old, I did roll my eyes a fair bit, but there weren't many opportunities to roll my eyes, because my parents are wonderful people, but I wasn't getting much guidance from them or anybody else about this set of issues.

 The funny place that I find myself in is that on the one hand I was raised in a very, very liberal, open, in many ways, very permissive environment.  And because of that, I appreciate more than a lot of people, stability, loyalty, commitment, what that does for people – for young people and for as you're growing older.

 So when people who  – a lot of times in our culture, the people who are kind of saying, "Oh, any kind of family form is fine, and children do fine no matter what, and all we need to do is just to support families wherever we find them and not making people feel bad and not talk about how divorce is bad."

 Those people, I always eventually find out they grew up with a mom and a dad who stayed married to each other, and they had their brothers and sisters and they claim there is no "Leave it to Beaver" type family, and often they grew up in one, and they're the first ones to say, "It doesn't matter, we can dismantle the whole thing."

 Well, I didn't grow up in a "Leave it to Beaver" family, and I know that constant turmoil hurts adults, and it hurts children, and what we need are structures that support people, and a lot of that, when you talk about the truths in the Bible, a lot of that is there are these timeless truths that – the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  Treat people right.  Stay together through thick and thin, don't just feed your desires because that's the thing that's most on your mind at any one moment.  Do the right thing and, in the long term, that will be the best thing for you and your family and your community.

 But you don't do it just for some kind of utilitarian reason that you'll get something out of it in return.  You do it because it's the right thing to do, and because the first commandment is to love, and love is hard, and so do it even when it's hard.

Dennis: You know, you just mentioned several things I want to comment on.  First of all, your desire for relationships were made by God for relationships.  That's why Jesus summarized the Old Testament – love your God with all your heart and love your neighbor.

 The second thing you mentioned is that of parents engaging their children and needing to step in even when the kids don't want them there and we've got to keep doing it, all the way through elementary-age children, junior high, high school, and even when they become adults at college.

 I've found with your youngest, Laura, she went through college, you know.  I had to constantly fight a current within me that just wanted to kind of let her go, but I had to realize, you know what?  She still needs a daddy.  She still needs a daddy.

 And then the third thing I just want to say is when you get ready to talk, as a parent, you have to say something, you have to speak from that reservoir of truth that is the age-old reservoir that came from God in the first place, the Scriptures.

 And I think, in many regards, Elizabeth, this culture has tried to take that sword of truth out of the hands of parents and tried to render them helpless and hopeless and weak and impotent and say to them, "You don't have any authority.  The real authorities are in the colleges and institutions and, for that matter, in the think tanks around the country.  Those are where the real authorities are."

Elizabeth: I couldn't agree with you more that that's a serious problem.  It's the tyranny of the experts, as some call it.  This idea that you can't speak about something unless you're an expert in the topic or you have a Ph.D. in it or something.

 I wrote an op-ed one time, and it was headlined, "Fathers Should Speak Up About Co-Ed Dorms," because one of the things that really struck me when I was talking about this report all over the place was how many fathers would say to me, kind of, off the record, like, they would sort of take me aside and say, you know, talking about their daughters – "You know, the day I dropped my daughter off at college and paying all this money, put her in – and she's got this co-ed dorm, and there's these guys who, like, live right in the hall, and they're sharing the bathroom, and that just seemed really weird to me and, of course, I didn't say anything about it because I don't want to seem uncool," and blah blah, you know, and they would sort of just dismiss it, and I just thought, "Here are all these dads forking out all this money for tuition, really troubled by this co-ed dorm thing and feeling like they can't say anything because that will make them square or nobody will listen or that somehow it's the college who is in control and not them.

 It's like, no, these colleges are listening, they are financial institutions, and they listen to where the money comes from, and the parents are paying the money, and they should speak up if they're concerned about this.

Dennis: When we were students, it was a big deal if you had a woman come to your room.

Elizabeth: And there were rules, right …

Dennis: The door …

Elizabeth: Door open, feet on the floor.

Dennis: There you are and …

Elizabeth: I've heard about this.

Dennis: Yeah, that was back before …

Elizabeth: It sounds so cute and clean, yeah.

Dennis: It was back before the earth's crust hardened.  There were dinosaurs walking on the earth, Elizabeth.  But, nonetheless, that was the rule-burden culture we grew up in and, I want to tell you, it was pretty simple, you know?  There weren't any women in the restroom when I went in to shave or shower or whatever.

Bob: And it's not like there was no – I was about to say there was no hooking up – I guess …

Dennis: Oh, it was there.

Bob: But not the kind of …

Dennis: But not like this.

Bob: Yeah, not like what you've got on the college campus today.  Back then there were more social mores, social restraints.  There was a culture that promoted a different kind of life.

 And as I look at your study, Elizabeth, and you look on the college campus, you talk to women on the college campus, and I think, in some ways, college campuses are just little mini-societies.  Are there some that are doing it right?  In other words, is there something we can learn from some cultures where you'd say, "They seem to have it together.  The hooking-up culture isn't prevalent here," and maybe we could learn something for our culture, as a whole.

Elizabeth: It's a great question.  Among the campuses where we visited in person, I can't say that I saw one that I would hold up as a model.  I will say that our on-campus interviews did not include Christian colleges, and I think it would be a terrific idea to visit Christian colleges to do this study and to see if they're doing it better.  I hope and think they would be, and I'd really like to know.

Bob: There might be some college campuses where there aren't co-ed dorms today and where there are still a few of the old rules around and where the hookup culture hasn't taken over.

Elizabeth: And the students are happier and …

Bob: And maybe if the word go out, people would say, "Huh," you know?

Dennis: Well, you know, I'm just thinking back over our conversation here today, and I'm thinking, you know, I'm not really into boycotts with the one exception of Abercrombie and Fitch …

Elizabeth: Yeah, that's a good boycott.  Don't buy their stuff.

Dennis: I'm sorry, I've been on them for, you know, 10 years, and I'm not going to get off of them, I'm really not.  It's just a corporate tragedy. 

 But I wonder if we need a movement of daddies who will band together to call the chancellors of major colleges and universities around the country.  Now, you know, there are broadcasts where we get people calling the White House or they call their senator, they call their congressman or whatever, and I think those things are fair – to express our opinion and get our opinion out.

 But I wonder, I just wonder, what would happen if …

Elizabeth: Organize the daddies.

Dennis: If you could get the daddies in a state to target – like the University of Michigan.

Elizabeth: Yeah, like a state university so you could talk to legislators, too, but, yeah, target the trustees.

Dennis: Enough of this nonsense of co-ed dorms.  We need men to be men, and if they behave badly …

Bob: Hire security guards, yeah.

Elizabeth: Call the police.

Bob: Yeah, absolutely, don't bring in the women to domesticate them.

Dennis: Exactly.  Why use my daughter – huh?

Elizabeth: That's a good argument.

Dennis: Why use my daughter …

Elizabeth: Who I protected all these years.

Dennis: Exactly, and expose them to that – to tame the barbarian?  I'm willing to give my daughter to one man …

Bob: One barbarian.

Elizabeth: But not a dorm full of them.  One barbarian only.


Dennis: We're going to think more about this, and you may need to go to to see if there is some way we can kind of put something together here and I don't know where we'll start, Bob, but it seems like we ought to start with a couple of high-visibility schools where you might be able to effect some change here.

Bob: Okay, you get that look in your eye, and I always worry.

Elizabeth: I love this.  I'm not worried.  This sounds great, I think it sounds great.

Bob: It does sound great, we're just never sure exactly – we don't have anything on our website that you can fill out or anything that you can do, or numbers or addresses or anything, but I guess any of our listeners could go to the websites of the college campuses in your community or in your state and call the president and say, "You know, I have a son or a daughter that's thinking about going there.  What's the deal with all these co-ed dorms?  And can I get my daughter in a dorm that's all women?"

 In fact, what you might want to do is print out a copy of the report that Elizabeth has authored that we have on our website at  There is the PDF file of that report.  You can print it out or download it to our computer, if you'd like, and it lays out all of the details of what's really happening on college campuses in this hooking-up culture.

 Again, go to our website,, and if you click the red "Go" button there, it will take you to the area of the site where you can download a copy of this report at no cost.  There is also information about resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife that have been designed to address the issues of what's going on in the hearts of young men and young women around this issue of purity.

 Books like Josh Harris's book, "Sex is not the Problem, Lust Is," and even a book like the one that you wrote, Dennis, "Interviewing Your Daughter's Date," that's available in our FamilyLife Resource Center as well.  The book, "Every Man's Battle," and "Every Young Man's Battle," by Fred Stoker dealing with the subject of pornography and purity; "Every Woman's Battle," by Shannon Etheridge, that's available from us as well.

 Go to the website,, click the red button that says "Go," and, again, that will take you to the area of the site where you can not only get a copy of Elizabeth's report, but you can also order some of these resources that you may find helpful as you work with your teenagers on cultivating a heart that is inclined toward purity.

 You can also call us, if you'd prefer it.  The number is 1-800-FLTODAY.  We do have folks available to take your calls and help you with any questions you might have about these resources we've talked about.  Again, the number is 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and you can feel free to give us a call.  We'd love to help you.

 You know, as we talk about challenging teenagers to have a heart for purity, there is another challenge that is going on this month here at FamilyLife as many of our listeners have been contacting us to make donations to the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and they have been participating in our August Challenge Fund.

 In addition to making a donation, they have been challenging other listeners to join with them and to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  A lot of listeners who have benefited from this radio program have said, "I want to challenge others who have benefited from listener to FamilyLife Today."  We had a listener with a $25 challenge to other fmalt listeners.  And we heard from someone who is not only a listener but has also attended a Weekend to Remember conference and wanted to challenge those of you who have benefited from the conference.  Now, this person made a $500 challenge gift, and we appreciate that.

 We hope to hear from as many listeners as possible this month with whatever kind of donation you can make, and we're also hoping you will issue a challenge of your own to encourage listeners to be a part of the Challenge Fund during the month of August.

 You can make your donation online at  You can also make your challenge online when you fill out your donation form.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make your donation over the phone and just mention who you'd like to challenge to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and we appreciate hearing from you.

 Well, tomorrow we're going to be back with our guest, Elizabeth Marquardt.  We're going to hear more about what is really happening on today's college campuses and about this whole hooking-up culture.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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