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Humorist’s Memoir of Dartmouth’s First Co-Ed Years
Talks Language of Today’s College Bound Too
Released: June 3, 2005

Release #05037
Contact:
Beth Krane, Media Relations
(860) 486-4656

Gina Barreca (860) 486-2988

STORRS, Conn.— As graduating high school students across the country look forward to their first taste of college life with anticipation, best-selling author and University of Connecticut professor, Gina Barreca hailed as a “feminist humor maven” by Ms. Magazine looks back with candor at her experiences as one of Dartmouth College’s first female students in her new book, Babes in Boyland: A Personal History of Coeducation in the Ivy League.

“Better Dead than Co-Ed” jeered the banners hanging from fraternities when Barreca, a working-class girl who grew up on Brooklyn and Long Island, first arrived on the campus of Dartmouth College, one of the most conservative and traditional of Ivy League institutions, in her too-tight black jeans and cowboy boots.

In Babes in Boyland, Barreca, now a professor of English literature and feminist theory, a prolific writer and sought-after humorist, recalls being immediately paralyzed by feelings of inadequacy. She also details her first stirrings of feminist consciousness and development of humor as a tool to deflect her often-hostile new environment.

 “You were asked, ‘Are you a lesbian?’ because ‘Only a lesbian would want to go to a men’s college,’ to which you learned to reply, ‘If I were a lesbian, sweetheart, don’t you think I’d have gone to a women’s college?’ (Or perhaps, when asked if you were a lesbian, you learned to answer with an unblinking little smile, ‘Are you my alternative?’).”

Although women started outnumbering men on college campuses in the United States in 1980, shortly after she graduated from Dartmouth, Barreca insists many young women today still grapple with self-consciousness and a lack of confidence during these pivotal years.

“This book really talks the language of the people I teach now,” the popular professor said. “I have girls in my classes whose voices still go up at the end of each sentence. Everything is a question, even their own names.”

The first in her family to attend college, Barreca also uses her frank memoir to examine issues of class in higher education or, as she calls it, “the presumption of entitlement versus appetite.”

“I loved my freshman seminar, even though in retrospect it may have led to my determination to teach at a public university,” she writes. “My professor, a 28-year-old man of much charm and wit, passed back our first papers and flicked out the remark, ‘Luckily it’s early enough in the term for most of you to find places in state colleges.’ It sounded, then and now, hollow and ruthless.”

“I’m constantly telling my students you’re as smart as any Ivy League kid,” she said.

“When you’re a working class kid and you’re going to college, you’re doing something seditious and I loved that,” she said. “I loved that sense of being a shock to the system of an institution.”

Despite the popularity of recent novels like Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, Barreca opted not to turn Babes in Boyland into a work of fiction.

Babes is culled straight from my college journals,” she said. “With real-life material like this, why make stuff up?”

Barreca, an award-winning newspaper columnist and best-selling author of six other books, earned a Bachelors from Dartmouth College, a Masters from Cambridge University, and a Ph.D. from the City University of New York. A repeat guest on 20-20, The Today Show and Oprah, Barreca has served as an advisor to the Library of Congress for work on humor and the American character. A recent work, I’m With Stupid: One Man, One Woman, and 10,000 Years of Misunderstandings Between the Sexes Cleared Right Up (2004), was co-authored with Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post. Babes in Boyland was published in April by the University Press of New England.                                                 

 

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