Viewing “Higher” Education

Anyone who hangs around USF long enough either hears of, or experiences first hand, the strangeness that is the Walmart on Fletcher.  I have gone many times to this mystical land of bargain shoppers, screaming children, and hungry college students.  Each time I witness something funny, however my most recent trip is by far the most memorable.  While in the drink aisle with some friends, I heard loud shouting and laughing from the nearby toy aisle, and in the spirit of curiosity went to look into it.  What I found was another group of students, clearly high, using brooms and skateboards to joust with one another.  While incredibly entertaining, I also felt a small sense of fear that this was the generation of adults that I would be joining the workforce alongside.  Then I began to inspect this from a more academic, and weird perspective, specifically that provided by Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger as I watched an unamused employee escort them to the exit.


In a way, college students have a culture of their own, in that, there is a fine line between normalcy and weirdness in terms of acceptable behavior, but where that line lies based on circumstance is often a foggy subject.  The reason for this is that college students are, in themselves, liminal spaces between children and adults.  Thus, immaturity is not encouraged, but is allowed, and acting grown-up is hoped for, but seems out of place.  It is expected that students act civil and professional in classrooms, yet anytime there is an opportunity for fun are supposed to become rowdy adolescents once again.  This binary of pressure placed on students is what allows a college campus to be a world of its own, where rules are different and odd forms of freedom and law abound.  From the standpoint of Douglas, we must inspect the college atmosphere as its own culture, and because of this, it has its own view of what is and isn’t off limits in this mini society.  A campus is asylum from the real world for those who aren’t yet ready to behave as adults, yet have the title imposed on them regardless.

4999552064_cf571f9c0d_bThe aforementioned binary can also be applied to the world surrounding a campus, when juxtaposed with any university space.  Because of the splits between allowances in college versus an entirely professional or immature atmosphere, students emerge as an exception, who Douglas would describe as the, “…only specific individuals on specified occasions that can break the rules…”  The reason that I found it odd that the individuals were jousting in Walmart was not the action, but the location.  This was not one of the “specified occasions” mentioned by Douglas, but rather a breach of the protective boundaries of campus.  In taking their stupid activities to a place other than school, they opened themselves to be judged not from an immature standpoint, but that of the grown-up world.  This ties into the theory of Douglas that there must be a clear distinction, or binary, between dirt and purity, or in this case tolerable and intolerable behaviors, as dirt represents that which society deems “taboo”.  The issue here is that the layover between groups results in a mixing of behavior, leading to harsh judgement, and inevitable conflict, in this particular scenario represented by the four gentlemen being kicked out by an employee.  This is not to say that true weirdness cannot be a matter of observers seeing foreign behavior just as much as the foreign territory to those partaking in the odd display.  It can be the fault of those looking upon acts as strange, or in the words of Douglas, “One can schematize their main divisions as two concentric circles.”  In layman’s terms, this means that the outer view is the determining factor in judging what is within.  In essence, weirdness is only a construct, and relies solely upon viewers to exist.


Douglas, Mary. Purity and danger: an analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. Place of publication not identified: Routledge, 2015.


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