The More Things Change …

Hillary Diane Rodham, at Wellesley College in 1969.

[Edited 8/21, 10:00 am: We've updated the list below with reader suggestions. To see the official Beloit Mindset List, published Tuesday morning, go here.]

The Beloit College Mindset List is getting a little long in the tooth. First compiled in 1998, the annual list purports to help professors reach students who have grown up, quite literally, in a different world. This year’s iteration, which will be released on Tuesday, is bound to reference online life (rotary phones versus smartphones), fashion statements (midcalf skirts versus bra straps), political figures (dead versus alive), and Jay Leno. That is, if the last several years’ lists are any guide.

As the guide has aged, critics contend that it’s becoming less and less relevant and more prone to knee-jerk, get-off-my-lawn grumbling. They also focus on an unfortunate tendency to pad the list with events and people who are merely historical, dead, or irrelevant by the time the entering class reaches adulthood. This is good for a few laughs, but not so much for true comprehension: What do you learn about people based on their ignorance of Barry Manilow? As Linda Holmes wrote for NPR in 2010, “The fact that we feel old is not the responsibility of the Class of 2014.”

Moreover, the list never seems to include figures who are central to young people’s cultural lives yet fly under the radar of their professors and parents. Here’s a suitable litmus test: Do you know the identity of the Based God?

Since the goal is intergenerational understanding, we wonder if it might not be more illustrative to create a database where various events, celebrities, and objects are compared according to how multiple generations were exposed to them. So, in the lighthearted spirit of the original, we’ve built an ad hoc, unofficial version of the list, to which you’re welcome to contribute. We’ll start with three generations: a midcareer professor, who turns 45 in 2012, and who is likely to have graduated from high school in 1985 and college around 1989; this year’s entering Class of 2016; and the Class of 1962, whose members were born in 1940, just before the baby boom. You may add more generations if you like.

Here’s how that database looks:

The first few (numbers 3-11) were compiled by a Chronicle staffer from the undergraduate Class of 2006: almost smack-dab in the middle of the 2016 and 1989 cohorts. The rest are from readers: we’ve marked our favorites in purple.

Now’s your chance to play: What cultural phenomena should be on the list, and how differently would those generations see them? Polling your teenagers and grandparents is allowed; curmudgeonly grumbling about Twitter is not. Game on: SUBMIT. And check back on Tuesday, when we highlight our reader favorites, and reveal the real contents of this year’s sanctioned, official list.

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