Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term as president. A star-studded lineup of rock musicians in Philadelphia and London put on Live Aid, a 16-hour concert to benefit African famine victims. Phil Collins managed to perform at both concerts in the U.K. and the U.S. on the same day by taking the since-retired supersonic passenger jet, the Concorde, from London to Philadelphia.
In other international news, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Russia after the death of Konstantin Chernenko. Upon his assumption of power, Gorbachev began to enact perestroika , which restructured the Soviet Union not only economically, but politically and socially. Meanwhile, the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro and its 400 passengers were hijacked by Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists who executed an elderly wheelchair-bound Jewish American tourist. That same year, a TWA airliner was also hijacked by Hezbollah terrorists demanding first the names of those who sounded Jewish on board, then diplomats and Americans; the hijackers identified and tortured a group of U.S. Navy Seabees aboard, executing one.
This political upheaval meant the issue of nuclear weapons and disarmament loomed large around the world. Not only did Gorbachev make reducing nuclear arms in the Soviet Union one of his priorities, but he and Reagan met at a Geneva summit partly focusing on nuclear arms control. With this atmosphere in mind, incoming freshmen were asked not only questions about their view of society as a whole, but several questions relating to nuclear weapons and disarmament in the 1985 version of the CIRP Freshman Survey.
A general view with which respondents were asked to indicate their agreement or disagreement was “Realistically, an individual person can do little to bring about changes in our society.” Overall, 65.2% of respondents disagreed either “somewhat” or “strongly” with this statement. Only 6.9% of respondents agreed “strongly.” When broken down by gender, 62.7% of male students and 68.5% of female students disagreed either “somewhat” or “strongly.” A total of 7.6% of male students and 5.6% of female students agreed “strongly.”
When asked their reaction to the statement “Nuclear disarmament is attainable,” their optimism faded somewhat. While 54.3% agreed either “somewhat” or “strongly,” only 19.3% agreed “strongly.” Meanwhile, 46.5% disagreed either “somewhat” or “strongly,” of which 16.8% disagreed “strongly.” This varied slightly by gender. A greater percentage of male students (49.6%) disagreed either “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement that nuclear disarmament was attainable than female students (41.6%). Incoming freshmen’s self-identified political viewpoints and reactions were related; 67.2% of students identifying as far right politically disagreed either “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement that nuclear disarmament was attainable compared to 57.4% of those identifying as politically conservative, 43.7% identifying as politically middle-of-the-road, 37.7% identifying as liberal, and 34.6% identifying as far left.
However, incoming freshmen largely agreed with the statement “The Federal government is not doing enough to promote disarmament”; a total of 67.9% agreed either “somewhat” or “strongly.” When broken down by gender, 75.9% of female students agreed either “somewhat” or “strongly,”15.9 percentage points higher than the 60% of male students who agreed either “somewhat” or “strongly.” Students’ responses also varied by political affiliation. For instance, 78.4% of incoming freshmen who identified as politically far left agreed either “somewhat” or “strongly” that the federal government was not doing enough to promote disarmament, whereas only 32.9% of those incoming freshmen who identified as politically far right agreed either “somewhat” or “strongly.”
While no survey can completely capture the Zeitgeist of a given era or individual year, these responses highlight a dual optimism and pessimism among many freshmen who entered college in 1985 about nuclear disarmament, an issue still debated by the international community today.
Did you know?: 25.9% of entering college freshmen in 1985 thought it “very important” in their choice of college that “This college has a good reputation for its social activities.”
28% of entering college freshmen in 1985 considered “Becoming an authority in my field” as an “essential” career goal.
59.6% of entering college freshmen in 1985 agreed either “strongly” or “somewhat” with the statement “The Federal government is not doing enough to protect the consumer from faulty goods and services.”