On October 4, my alma mater, the University of Connecticut, made it on YouTube when 19-year-old student Luke Gatti, high as a kite, entered a campus food court to order a popular mac and cheese dish with jalapeño and bacon. Problem was, with a smartphone taking in the whole scene, he became abusive, issuing a loud, long and slurred string of obscenities, even shoving the manager who had politely asked him several times to leave. Finally, a cook tackled Gatti and held him down long enough for the campus cops to cuff him and take him away. (As only journalists know how to do, the Hartford Courant quickly sent an intrepid reporter to the food court to sample the dish and find out whether it was worth the risk of making oneself a national laughingstock, getting kicked out of school and being arraigned for breach of peace. The verdict? Not really.)
Fortunately, we all know genuinely poor behavior when we see it. I certainly do. I did even as a college student, when campus life could be wild and bizarre, and a lot of us, myself included, did things that were stupid and obnoxious, even for those days.
Yet many college students and even administrations today seem to be in a lather over behavior that’s much harder to recognize or even categorize. The atmosphere on some campuses has become so infused with a far-left McCarthyism that were I to want to go back to school, I’d probably demur solely because my inadequately developed sense of political correctness and I would probably spend half our time ducking all the pointing fingers and flying saliva for having violated people’s “safe space.”
Forget the anti-Zionist claptrap that’s long infected a lot of North American campuses.
Things have gotten far more loony.
AT COLUMBIA in New York City, charges of date rape – for sure a serious issue – ended up with senior Emma Sulkowicz hauling her dorm mattress around campus for a full academic year to shame the alleged transgressor, fellow senior and former beau Paul Nungesser.
An investigation by Columbia found no evidence of wrongdoing by Nungesser, but, as Emily Bazelon writes in a fine piece for The New York Times Magazine, “the university also gave Sulkowicz academic credit and logistical support for ‘Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight),’ which doubled as her senior thesis project.”
That project and the often ugly endorsements it attracted created a living hell for Nungesser, not only for an entire academic year but also at graduation, when the university allowed Sulkowicz to drag the mattress on stage when she was handed her diploma.
As Bazelon writes, in April, Nungesser “sued Columbia for gender discrimination, arguing that the university supported a campaign to bully and harass him and that the administration would never have let a male student target a female student in the same way he had been targeted.”
In May, the university sought to have the lawsuit dismissed. The case, as far as I can discern, is still pending.
Some 75 miles to the northeast, students at Yale put a chill on Halloween last month over a couple of emails from members of the faculty.
The first, sent out by a dean, urged students to make sure their costumes wouldn’t offend anyone. You know, like a witch. The second, a thoughtful and reasoned response by a lecturer in early childhood education, said in part: “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious...
a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.”
That entreaty incensed many among the Yale student body, the anger being directed even toward the lecturer’s professor husband, the master – a kind of house father – of Silliman, one of the university’s small colleges.
In an equally fine piece for The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf notes a report saying that a number of Silliman students now find life there “unbearable.”
“These are young people,” Friedersdorf writes, “who live in safe, heated buildings with two Steinway grand pianos, an indoor basketball court, a courtyard with hammocks and picnic tables, a computer lab, a dance studio, a gym, a movie theater, a film-editing lab, billiard tables, an art gallery, and four music practice rooms.
But they can’t bear this setting that millions of people would risk their lives to inhabit because one woman wrote an email that hurt their feelings?” Colin McEnroe, a Yale alum and delightfully acerbic columnist at the Hartford Courant, writes that there had been “fallout from a campus-wide conversation about Halloween costumes. Not Ferguson.
Not Afghanistan. Not immigration. Not Planned Parenthood.... In what is sure to become the most-mocked symbol of the whole sorry episode, one student wrote in the Yale Herald [student newspaper], ‘I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.’” McEnroe’s rejoinder? “I don’t want to listen. I want to puke.”
Now let’s head a thousand miles or so to the southwest, to the University of Missouri, where students, justifiably angry over racist attacks, were celebrating the resignation of the university’s president.
When a reporter/photographer for the student newspaper sought to cover the festivities, Melissa Click – an assistant professor of media studies, no less – declared the scene, the quadrangle of a public university, off-limits to the press.
The student journo correctly insisted that he had every right to be there. To this, Click – whose university web page describes her expertise as “popular culture texts and audiences, particularly texts and audiences disdained in mainstream culture,” with her efforts “guided by audience studies, theories of gender and sexuality, and media literacy” – promptly shouted: “Hey, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here!” Now let’s head north, to Canada, that bastion of niceness, where the University of Ottawa, possibly in thrall over the recent departure of an Evangelical prime minister who absolutely adored Israel, canceled a campus yoga class. The reason? There were “fears the teachings could be seen as a form of ‘cultural appropriation,’” reports Aedan Helmer of the Ottawa Sun.
Helmer quotes an official from the student center, where the class was held, as saying: “‘Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practiced’ and which cultures those practices ‘are being taken from.’ The center official argues [that] since many of those cultures ‘have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and Western supremacy… we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practicing yoga.’” Quite the mantra.
FORGET THE mac and cheese with jalapeño and bacon. As with McEnroe of the Courant, all this cockamamie campus contortionism makes me want to throw up.
Universities used to be places where we could expand our horizons and explore even the remotest possibilities. They were a ring we could climb into for a few rounds of provocative and even heated debate.
Unfortunately, people now seem to insist on sturdy protective headgear or, better yet, outlawing this kind of interaction entirely, considering it far too dangerous for our fragile, little brains.
So, quick, bring me a bag. No, not plastic! Paper! Even when our peristalsis is indicating the onset of a sudden and violent ballistics test, we must be mindful of our surroundings.