“Activities Participation Inventory” offers glimpse into 1970s student life

The transition from high school to college is an exciting time for many students. Most first-years find themselves in a strange new place, surrounded by a sea of unknown faces and unfamiliar traditions. To ease this transition, it may help to be able to continue with one’s favorite hobbies and pastimes, encouraging creative expression while allowing new students to meet other people who share similar interests.

Enter the 1978 Activities Participation Inventory. This survey was issued by Augustana College to the incoming class of 1982 (and repeated the following year) in order to gauge student interest in various topics or activities. It appears the ultimate goal was to create campus interest groups for the most popular activities, thereby providing both new and returning students with an outlet for fellowship, self-expression, and fun. Students were encouraged to select up to four activities for consideration.

If you think compiling a list of possible student interest groups is an easy task, think again! The Office of Student Services identified over 150 proposed topics, ranging from the scholarly to the ridiculous.

MSS 199 Augustana College Office of Student Services records, box 24.

MSS 199 Augustana College Office of Student Services records, box 24.


MSS 199 Augustana College Office of Student Services records, box 24.

In this survey, traditional and more serious topics like Religious Discussion, Career Planning, Inter-racial Relations, and Political Awareness are featured alongside lighthearted options like Butterfly Hunting, Soul Food Cooking, and Foosball. It’s refreshing to see that Augie students’ enthusiasm for Bingo continues unabated into the 21st century, but many of these activities, popular among young people in the 1970s, are likely all but unheard of by today’s average 18-year-old. For instance, Ham Radio and Citizen’s Band (C.B.) Radio were wildly popular in the 1970s, but interest in this technology declined with the advent of the cellular phone. Retro games like Risk, Pinochle, and Bridge would be unlikely to attract much attention today, and the art of collecting and assembling the ideal Stereo setup is all but dead.

Been to any good Lapidaries lately? This refers to the art of carving rough gems into the shiny stones featured in jewelry. When’s the last time you practiced your Orienteering, or navigating the wilderness with a map and compass?

It may be surprising that the College proposed some of these groups. After all, it’s hard to imagine College-sanctioned clubs centered on Beer Can Collection, Pipe Smoking and Collection, and Wine Making. In fact, most students on Augustana’s campus could legally drink when this survey was circulated. After the passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, many states lowered their drinking ages as well. Illinois allowed 19-year-olds to legally drink beer and wine from 1973 until 1980, when the age limit was raised again. Smoking was still relatively popular among young people in the 1970s as well.

And then there are some categories that just seem, well, strange. One can only speculate how students would expect to hone their skills in Flying, Magic, and E.S.P. Tropical Fish seems innocuous enough, but at around 1000 miles from the nearest ocean, it hardly seems like Rock Island would be the best gathering place to observe them.

So, which categories were the favorites? The results below showed that Music came out on top, closely followed by Snow Skiing. Most categories in the top 10 are still fairly common interests among today’s students.


MSS 199 Augustana College Office of Student Services records, box 24.

However, the next year’s survey was swept by a dark horse candidate…


MSS 199 Augustana College Office of Student Services records, box 24.

That’s right, Tie Dying!

So what might the Activities Participation Inventory of 2015 look like? Would it include Quidditch, Hashtagging, Gluten-Free Foods, or Selfies? Cast your vote in the comments!

To find out more about student life in the 1970s, check out the Augustana College Office of Student Services records, MSS 199, in Special Collections.

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