Sitting in a university assembly on a Monday morning, feeling the creaking tension of the auditorium chairs, I was taken aback from my musing by one of the speaker’s many tangents. The tangent was about the difficulty the administration had in understanding why the student body deviates from the averages on many important social issues. The speaker noted that they and their colleagues didn’t know why the deviations were occurring or what motivators contributed to the differences in the student body in comparison to other major universities. This comment brought me to question, what role do undergraduate programs play in the socialization of students and why are the results of this socialization so varied across different campuses across the United States, even among standardized public universities?
According to Weidman, the socialization of students is only partially shaped by the college experience with parental socialization, outside social groups, and student background playing a significant role in the development of students’ identities. This may begin to explain the differences in the social structures of universities. However, especially among public universities, it would be expected that the resulting diversity on campuses because of these outside factors would lead to some kind of normative social structure across universities, but instead, schools still have vastly different comparative social identities. The full answer must be found instead in the social structures of each specific university.
Weidman categorizes the effects of the college experience into two categories: Normative contexts, the formal academic and social structures organized by the institution; and Socialization Processes, the un-institutionalized interaction of students. It’s the normative processes that are likely to have the most dichotomous effects across different campuses due to the institutionalization of the socialization where administrators have control over how student bodies interact. These factors may include admissions processes (e.g., affirmative action), sponsored campus event choices, campus policies, and the encouragement of certain behaviors or cultural norms by the administration. While eventually Socialization Processes are destined to have more control over a student’s socialization over four or more years, the Normative Contexts are likely where these Socialization Processes are based. Despite the resistance of most students to organized social contexts (Normative contexts), the college experience itself is precisely engineered to function as a social space. Thus, even the so-called un-institutionalized processes are destined to be influenced by normative contexts. Clearly, the polices of our universities and the way they structure their social environments has long lasting effects on students, even past their undergraduate years.