Divya Ramesh | Access denied

Through My Eyes | Universities have crossed the line in their pursuit of privacy

· January 28, 2013, 12:58 am

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Divya Ramesh
Through My Eyes

I will never forget my first experience on the SEPTA train system.

While rolling from Trenton to 30th Street Station, I met a sophomore from another university who scarred me for life.

She told me with arrogant confidence that she was going to Philly to spend time with a boyfriend that her parents didn’t know existed.

She detailed with pride how she had “struggled to blow off” her “control freak parents” with a crafty yet barely credible lie about her whereabouts.

She bragged about how her parents thought that she was a computer science major, although she was actually taking different classes on the down low.

“I wonder if you could double major in skillful deceit operations?” I asked sardonically. “How many credits would you need to graduate with honors?”

Consumed in recounting her escapade of deception, my fellow passenger failed to hear the disapproval dripping from my voice.

I pitied her parents. They were paying her tuition fees, oblivious to the fact that their daughter was living a lie.

And how could they know the truth? She hadn’t authorized her parents to see her classes or her grades.

I felt like the only college student who called her parents about everything — from classes and GBMs to the first snow on Locust Walk. Often, my mom struggles to stay awake on the other end of the line, listening to painfully accurate and heavily detailed accounts of my dull routine.

Sadly, lying to parents seems common in college student culture. A study done in 1997 by Louisiana State University found that college students lied to their mothers about once in every two conversations — fibbing about studying, textbook prices and dating.

A 2010 article written by psychotherapist Diane Barth confirmed similar findings. A patient’s parents complained that “[their son] lied … about everything.” The university neglected to inform them of his failure to attend class, about his probation and resulting suspension.

Our 18-year-old cutoff brands incoming college students as free from parental advice. We scorn “helicopter parents” and encourage students to embrace independence.

Yet, in 2007, George D. Kuh, an Indiana University professor, came to an interesting conclusion: students whose parents were more involved were more successful in their first years of college than their more “liberated” peers.

After witnessing the claims of these articles reflected in the life of my SEPTA seatmate, I examined Penn’s own privacy policy, which treats students as “adults.” The policy doesn’t help the situation.

“The University philosophy [is] that students should be treated as adults … [and it] will not share personally identifiable information … from a student’s education[al] records with third parties, including parents or guardians, without student consent, except in limited circumstances.”

I find the word “adult” problematic.

According to psychologists, many of us are only emerging adults, trapped between adolescence and adulthood. Most of us don’t live at home, but are still financially and emotionally depend on parents and guardians.

The policy requires me to authorize my parents to view my grades, health records and bills.

What if I didn’t? If I were sick or failing, my parents could remain in the dark. It’s idiotic and Barth agrees.

“While it is extremely important to protect a young person’s privacy, “ Barth says. “It also seems … [contradictory] to keep grades hidden from parents who might profitably use the information to [assess] their child’s functioning at school.”

Contrary to what the University believes, parents are not a “third party.” As a freshman still adjusting to Penn, my parents are my constant: the second party listening to my frustrated rants and amusing stories.

My parents and I are together involved in this new situation that I call college, and as President Gutmann emphasized during family weekend and NSO, they are part of the Penn family.

We need to keep our parents involved and informed. The privacy policy works if there are open lines of communication but these lines are sometimes closed, or tell only half the story. Our parents pay the bills, so they should know what they’re getting — what you’re getting.

An amended privacy policy with fewer barriers should reflect that.

Divya Ramesh is a College freshman from Princeton Junction, N.J. Her email address is divyaramesh20@gmail.com. You can follow her @DivyaRamesh11. “Through My Eyes” appears every Monday.

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