News

Annual Report Finds Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Remains Largely White, Male

News

Harvard Square Celebrates Oktoberfest

News

Harvard Corporation Members Donated Big to Democrats in 2020 Elections

News

City Council Candidates Propose Strategies for Supporting Low-Income Residents at Virtual Forum

News

FAS Dean Gay Hopes to Update Affiliates on Ethnic Studies Search by Semester’s End

What's Been Getting You Down...

By Deborah B. Johnson

THOUGH their sophistication put them in the top ten on Playboy's loose list last Fall, Radcliffe girls don't always measure up to the image they seem to flaunt in classrooms every day.

Go to dinner there sometimes. Listen to the late night conversations in the dorms. Listen to the early afternoon conversations on the Radcliffe Quad. Meet a Cliffie. Find out.

Away of somewhere beyond the Cambridge Common, Cliffies are hung up above love, sex, and all those normal things that Cliffies aren't supposed to get caught on. Will that goodnight kiss wind up in a late night wrestling match? Should you really sleep with him? Where do you get those pills?

Sometimes the answers are found in late night talks, sometimes the girls trot off to see Dr. Graham--the Radcliffe sex man. Every year around the beginning of October, little signs start appearing around the Cliffie announcing the yearly arrival of Leroy Graham, counselor on love, sex, and other related topics.

Graham, who is an assistant professor of Sociology at American University and has taught at several other colleges, spends regular three-day weekends at Radcliffe once a month. Dividing his time between individual appointments, group sessions, and informal chats over coffee in the dining hall. Graham knows the Radcliffe reputation, but he's seen it from a perspective about half of a mile closer than the Harvard boys.

"There's a feeling that there's more sexual freedom here at Radcliffe, but I'm not sure that's true," he admits. The most open discussion he's ever had on sex with a group of girls took place in South Carolina--at Columbia College with a 600 all-girl student body.

The nitty gritty discussions at Radcliffe are rare, and often rather amusing. Usually 15 or 20 freshman attend. When Graham explains that they can either ask questions directly or write them down on cards, they invariably choose to write them out--in his three years at Radcliffe, only three groups have voted for open questions.

Although the written questions are usually open and frank (typical questions run the range of "What can you do besides take cold showers when you're frustrated?" to inquiries on frigidity, birth control, and abortion), the discussion end of these group sessions often look like prayer meetings. Girls sit quietly for two hours, several always furiously concentrating on their knitting, others equally interested in the floor. When Graham asks questions--as he persists in doing--they hang silently around the room. Occasionally someone will whisper a reluctant answer.

BECAUSE the different groups often ask the same questions, Graham arranges his answers into the four basic sex questions: premarital intercourse, birth control, love, and "necking and petting." Something these are interspersed with the more specific problems--sexual differences in couples, frigidity, abortion, mate selection. But almost everything ends up in the abstract--Graham quotes frequently from Kinsey and Masters and Johnson.

The longer a woman has attended school and college, the more likely she is to lose her virginity before marriage. "Why do you think that is?" asks Graham to the Knitters and floor starers. Silence. "Well, maybe because they don't get married right after high school, so they have more time," one girl mumbles.

Most of the girls are waiting for their own questions to be answered. Graham prefers to meet with a group at least twice, and there are invariably fewer girls the second time.

He makes a point of explaining different methods of contraception in great detail. Graham is not a doctor himself, but took some medical courses for his Ph.D. In individual appointments, he says, "I do talk with them about the pros and cons of birth control and make medical referral where advisable. I feel any girl who wants contraceptives should have them."

One Boston gynecologist he recommended was so swamped by calls from freshmen in one dorm asking for appointments that his secretary would guess the girls' addresses before they gave it.

THIS YEAR is Graham's last at Radcliffe. Mrs. Genevieve Austin, dean of Residence, who is in charge of arrangements for Graham's coming here, says that the college is looking for a counselor next year who lives close by and will be more available.

Graham teaches a course on Marriage and Family at American University. He received an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Marriage Counseling from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965. "It took forever to get it," he says. His thesis was on premarital chastity as viewed by two modern Protestant theologians and Kinsey and Margaret Mead. "I wanted to see how relevant theology was to actual facts," he says.

Born in South Carolina, Graham quit school at 16 to work in the government and then in the Navy during World War II. He married during his freshman year at American University at the age of 20 and has two children who are now 17 and 15.

"I do think marriage while in college is feasible if finances, health, and academics make it possible. My early marriage has given me a favorable outlook on college marriages," he says.

"I'm sure I've learned a great deal more by being a father and husband that what I learned from books and classes," he adds.

He has taught at American University for ten years, and before that at Columbia College in South Carolina.

"I feel that one of the greatest needs people have is the need to make a decision on ethical questions," Graham says. "We are in a society where old traditional values are seriously questioned but nobody has replaced them with anything else."

"Students at Radcliffe are much more likely to be genuinely questioning things--unlike elsewhere. They are more likely to be raising basic questions in their own minds--it's more exciting to be working and thinking things through with them."

EVEN THOUGH his discussion groups often get dull, Graham is always swamped with individual appointments.

The Residence Office makes a great point of anonymity for the girls who want to see him. Those who seek appointments call the Residence Office and arrange a time to meet him, without leaving a name. At that time, they are expected to show up outside the room in Hilles Library that Graham uses for his office. He says that most girls usually keep their appointments. He has about 20 individual one-hour appointments on his weekends here. "I almost always fit everyone in just barely," he says.

Harvard men are also welcome to consult with Graham, and occasionally couples will speak with him together. "Harvard has never been very aware of the fact that I'm here and Radcliffe has been rather bashful about telling them," he says.

Graham divides the girls he sees into four categories, from very conservative to very liberal. He sees more in the middle than in the extremes. About those who are very hung up, he says, "The assumption that they're all psychotic is certainly not true."

Of his individual counseling, he says, "I want to help girls see whatever situation they're in more clearly. I don't try to push them in any direction at all--I try to help them work out their decisions." He says most problems center around a relationship a girl is having with a specific boy. "I don't start out saying, 'This is what's going to happen to you.' If I sense they're not being honest with themselves, I say that and we talk about it."

Most of the problems he works with are both medical and psychological. The questions he is asked more often are about birth control.

Many girls considering sleeping with someone come to Graham to discuss it. "The image of sexually free college girls is more true than it used to be," Graham says. "There are a lot of girls who are moderately conservative--just a few who are wildly puritanical."

Occasionally, after seeing a girl for one or two sessions, he will recommend that she see a psychiatrist. But, for the most part, he says, "They don't need that. A psychiatrist almost never deal with a relationship, but with a person."

Graham says that Harvard needs two things: a course on marriage and the family, and someone to be available for discussions and counseling on a regular basis. He feels that Radcliffe has been reticent in discussing these innovations with Harvard. "Radcliffe is in my view a kind of blushing bashful bride--if there are any of those left."

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags