Saving the culture, one date at a time

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BOSTON – For one batch of freshmen at Boston College, this year’s rush of exams and deadlines will include one very unique extra credit assignment. Professor Kerry Cronin, BC’s famous “Dating Doctor” will set them the task of asking someone out on a date.

Cronin says she got the idea years ago when she taught a senior capstone course. In conversation with her students one day, she realized that “hooking up” or “hanging out” has largely replaced dating on college campuses. From then on, she began her now-famous “dating assignment,” which for her seniors was mandatory.  Now, teaching a freshmen course on “Perspectives in Western Culture,” Cronin offers it to students as a chance for extra credit, not a course requirement.

The assignment comes with ground rules: Students have to ask someone in whom they have a genuine interest, and the asking must be done in person, only over phone call if absolutely necessary, and never – she emphatically stresses – by text. The date must take place off campus, and there can be no physical contact during it, with the exception of a brief hug at the end. After the date, the students must write a reflection on their experience.

Over the years, some of these dates have turned into full relationships, and even a few marriages. Others have simply turned into entertaining vignettes for students to regale the class with, but as far as Cronin is concerned, playing matchmaker is not the priority.  Her objectives are to give students a sense of social courage needed to approach someone and ask them out, but also to give them a forum in which to discuss dating, something which is spoken of in nearly hushed tones on college campuses around the nation.

As a generation, Cronin posits, the millennials have lost a “dating script.” They have no concept of how to ask someone on a date, or how to respond if they are approached by someone for a date.

“At most colleges and universities, we’re good at challenging minds and giving opportunities for personal, emotional, and intellectual growth, but we’re ignoring this whole need of students to learn how to connect to each other and to care for another person, whether romantically or through friendship. We should be forming men and women who can make a promise and keep it,” Cronin told the NewBostonPost.

Aside from teaching her course at Boston College, where she is the director of the Lonergan Institute, Cronin travels around the country speaking about dating culture on college campuses, and everywhere she goes, she gives gathered audiences the same assignment: ask someone out this week.

The way Cronin sees it, this unconventional item on her syllabus is part of her job. When asked whether assigning students to ask out their peers falls within her role as professor, she responds: “[T]oday’s culture is not neutral. Students are steeping an a culture where healthy relationships are far from the norm and as an educator, it’s not okay to simply stick your head in the ground.”