Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 16, 1996

Generation X: More
Than Appearances

Music, drugs: MTV's Alison
Stewart, pot forum kick off

Leslie Rice
News and Information

Any fears that this year's Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium would not be popular are now quite gone.

After a packed audience filled Shriver Hall to hear MTV journalist Alison Stewart talk last Monday, and students crowded the Glass Pavilion to attend a panel discussion on the legalization of marijuana, symposium co-chairs Jeff Shalom and David Capece are now at last beginning to breathe more easily.

And this week should be even more exciting. On Thursday at 8 p.m. in Shriver Hall, Olympic diver Greg Louganis will speak about his struggle with AIDS and the impact of the disease on Generation X.

"We're totally happy with the response from everyone so far, and I think it's only going to get better because the biggest names are ahead of us," Capece said. "I have a feeling Greg Louganis will draw a lot of people, not just because of his gold medals and his personal story of his fight with AIDS, but because he's a national figure we're all familiar with. I think that second when he hit his head on the diving board in the '88 Games is a moment shared by the entire nation."

Last Monday, MTV's Stewart focused her talk on her travels through the country, covering stories of interest to viewers in the 18 to 29 age range. Aware that Generation X has been described by academics, politicians and marketing experts as apathetic slackers who can't seem to leave the nest and their MTV. But her hands-on experience with this generation has led her to believe otherwise. There are 46 million people in that age group, said Stewart, an incredibly diverse group of people with a vast array of values and opinions.

"Generation X is just genuinely different," she said. "That is why it is so often subject to criticism. Our language and approach to life are very different from past generations', and because of that, they have a hard time understanding us."

Two nights later in the Glass Pavilion, Capece and Shalom were expecting a modest showing for a panel discussion debating whether or not marijuana should be legalized. But as the discussion got under way, students had filled all the chairs and were forced to stand or sit on the floor.

The discussion was moderated by Jill Jonnes, historian and author of Hep Cats: Cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams, A History of America's Romance with Illegal Drugs. Other panelists were Peter Beilenson, Baltimore City commissioner of health and an associate professor at Hopkins' School of Hygiene and Public Health; John Bull, one of the nation's pioneers in drug addiction treatment and expert on the use of methadone in treating addicts; Keith Stroup, founder and interim executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML); and Patricia Fernandez-Kelly, Hopkins sociologist and research scientist at the Institute of Policy Studies.

As might be expected, there were strong differences of opinion among panelists. Bull and Jonnes were emphatically opposed to the idea of legalization. For very different reasons, Fernandez-Kelly and Stroup were in favor of it. And Beilenson wouldn't side with either choice. Following the panel's formal opinions, the students engaged them in a lively debate.

"It's an issue students our age are interested in," Capece said. "For one reason, the use of marijuana on college campuses seems to be on the rise. And also, our generation is different from those who went to college in the '70s and '80s. We know a lot more about drugs than they did. There is a lot more information about them now, and we've also seen the impact of drugs on this country. But as for marijuana, most of the speakers agreed that the actual health risks of marijuana seem to be about the same as, if not less than, alcohol or tobacco. So the issue of the legalization of marijuana becomes more of a sociological or a moral one."

Capece promises many more subjects and issues for students and the public to sink their teeth into during the remainder of the symposium, which lasts until Oct. 23. Among the other speakers are environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., bestselling author Tom Clancy and supermodel Tyra Banks. Capece and Shalom are expecting a huge turnout for Banks, who speaks on "Race and Fashion" Sept. 26 at 8 p.m. in Shriver Hall.

"My fear now is that we'll have to turn some people away from that one," Shalom said. "I was walking around the freshman dorms the other day, and they all have that date penciled in on the calendars."

All symposium talks are free and open to the public. For a complete schedule, call the symposium office at (410) 516-7683.

--Stacey Patton contributed to this article

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