College 'Mindset List': Freshmen Grew Up With Google, Reality TV

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For most teens starting college this fall, disposable contact lenses have always been available, wars and revolutions have always been televised, and a stamp was rarely needed for communication.

Born in 1988, incoming freshmen grew up knowing only two presidents, searching for Waldo and eating dolphin-free canned tuna.

Those are some of the 75 cultural landmarks on the Beloit College Mindset List, an annual compilation that offers a glimpse of the world view through the eyes of each incoming class. The list was released Wednesday by this private school of 1,250 in this southern Wisconsin city.

"The list isn't looking strictly for chronological accuracy," said Ron Nief, the school's director of public affairs. "It's more about capturing cultural horizons and world views."

For example, item No. 2 says the class of 2010 has only known two presidents because the third, the elder George Bush, was voted out of office when they were only 4 years old, Nief said.

Billy Carter, Billy Martin and Lucille Ball all died before the incoming freshmen were born, according to the study's authors. But Julie Heney said she remembers the classic comedienne from imitating her in skits.

How did Heney, 18, learn about Ball?

"I googled her," said the Montpelier, Vt. native, confirming No. 19 on the Mindset list: "'Google' has always been a verb" for this generation.

Item No. 33 reflects a 1992 quote by black motorist Rodney King, who was beaten by four white officers. A jury's verdict acquitting the officers of the most serious charges spawned race riots and compelled King to issue a plea for peace.

The item reads: "They have no idea why we needed to ask, '... Can we all get along?'"

Mitchell Young, 18, of Highland Park, Ill., said the quote was familiar.

"I've heard it before. It sounds like a John Lennon thing," Young said.

The list gives faculty a better understanding of the cultural attitudes of the incoming class, said English professor Tom McBride, who helps Nief assemble the list.

"Once upon a time faculty could talk about the Watergate scandal. This reminds them that now they have to explain it first," McBride said.

Students didn't agree with all the items on the list, for example, that they grew up with reality-television shows and have always had access to their own credit cards.

"I think these things might apply to some people, but not to everyone, said Brigid Wold-Walsh, 18, from Seattle.

Nief acknowledged that most of the items are relevant to white middle-class America.

McBride said the lists, begun in 1998, often depress people who find themselves wondering how they got so old so fast.

"But it's an illusion. It's not them getting old, it's culture that changes so fast," he said. "Trends and fashions are so short-lived that a lot happens in just 18 years."