~ In 1966 things were different, but maybe not so much.
Two weeks ago I was in New Jersey. Two days before that I was in New Brunswick and was walking around the New Jersey State College of Rutgers. At the time Tyler Clementi, college freshman, was still alive.
So for a moment let us forget that the allegation has been made that Tyler Clementi was gay. Let’s forget that the media frenzy about his death is based on his “gayness”. There are other issues here, other aspects of the story, larger questions and larger revelations that I suspect are yet to be made.
Forty-four (44) years ago I too was an eighteen (18) year old college freshman. I too was going to a State University, for me it was the University of Nevada which by name meant only the Reno campus then. Nevada was a much smaller school then than Rutgers and certainly much smaller than Rutgers University is now. The mascot for the University of Nevada was the wolf – the Wolfpack. For Rutgers the mascot is the Scarlet Knight (replacing the earlier mascot “the Queensmen”). Google for the information and you will soon learn that the Scarlet Knight is officially sexually neutral.
But I regress in revisiting the symbolic sexuality of the school as manifest in its mascots and in the folk lore. Both wolves and knights are predators at heart, not prey. Most college freshmen (and frosh women – “frosh” having its root in the word frog) do not choose the schools they attend by a desire to be a “wolf” or a “scarlet knight” or a “Queensmen”; they select their schools for financial reasons and by where one can get in. Then one makes the best of what soon reveals itself to be a bad situation.
According to a recent poll 48% of high school students polled had engaged in sexual intercourse. Modern perceptions created by the media would suggest that the figure should indicate more. The poll suggests to the contrary – no, “everyone” is not doing it. I don’t know if “everyone” was doing it in high school in Nevada or at Reno High (School). The idea of 48% seems high. Most “fast” guys at Nevada joined a fraternity and even my fraternity had a fairly high number of virgins and the older fraternity brothers were always finding new virgins among the college women that they dated. There was no discussion regarding the number of virgin men meaning those that had not had sexual intercourse with other men – meaning male sodomy of course. This was Nevada, a state school, the motto of the school was (or seemed to be) In Loco Parentis – meaning the school is your parents and like your parents you can expect the school to be strict.
There was a tradition (then) at Nevada that every year an incoming Freshmen would die. Nobody said it was a conspiracy, nobody said it “had” to happen, the faculty and the administration was resigned to the fact as just an act of “fate”. The death would usually happen in the first two months of school. The year that I was a frosh the sacrifice to the Gods of Education was a young male killed in a skydiving accident somewhere near Carson City. The parachute apparently failed to open, a long fall and he was dead. What goes up and down and is green and red all over? A frog in a blender.
Other years it was other students and other causes. Some years there were car crashes, this years skydiving accident was not the first (skydiving accident, or accident involving small planes). The University debated banning “skydiving and pilot lessens” as activities appropriate for freshmen under the powers of in loco parentis, but the air force and Cessna and even Bill Harrah with his King and Queen Airs (airplanes, airplanes) were against this so the regents in time backed down.
What was taboo for eighteen year olds, especially Freshmen, was using tax payer paid State property for losing your virginity or for ratifying the lost virginity of others. The assumption of the University, the regents, the administration was that parents did not send their sons and daughters off to college to “fuck” – the idea was that the college experience should be more focused on getting an education which unlike movies and television did not mean a sexual education.
No, dinosaurs no longer roam the earth. In just one generation they’re mostly gone. State financed dormitories no longer are segregated into “men’s dorms” and “women’s dorms”. There are no longer sign in and sign out sheets at the always monitored dormitory front desk. There is no longer an 11:00 P.M. curfew. One no longer politely meets their “date” in the public scrutiny provided by the front dormitory lobby. It was all about “in loco parentis” which meant something else then (in 1966) than it evidently does now.
It was not that nobody got “screwed” in 1966. It was not that sexual intercourse, even among eighteen-year-old’s did not exist. The issue was more about student rights and parental rights then – and the rights of the taxpayer to determine use of public (taxpayer paid for) property. It was about the reason why a State University existed and for what reason expensive state financed dormitories existed.
At least three young people stand to have their lives ruined by the events at Rutgers University. Some would argue that all three (being over 18) are adults – parents and in loco parentis principals should not matter, do not apply. There are no victims here, just consenting adults in a “buyer” (or doer) beware world. The moniker of the times (being so far removed from 1966) is “if you do it, it’s public” – the age of privacy is over.
So obviously Dharun Ravi was at least a little bit mad. He (or his parents) had signed a contract for a (dormitory) room and couldn’t use it. “You want to watch Ravi?”, “I don’t think so!”, “I have my rights, get out.” “I’ll be busy until after midnight, which means 12:00.” “Go sleep with Molly Wei or something, throw her roommate out!”.
Do we even know if Dharun and Molly were “doing it”. Does it matter? Is this “case” a case of property rights or privacy rights and if property rights are at issue what was the proper avenue of appeal for Dharun assuming that he had adult rights and wished to behave as an adult? I’m not saying Dharun and Molly acted wisely, I’m suggesting that they had little real choice.
Let’s look at the debate. In 1966 Dharun would take his case to the RA (Resident Assistant); the RA might take the case to the Dean of Men. The Dean of Men (Sam Basta) might say, “kids say the damnest things, I want proof.” So Dharun would have to have proof that the sexual conduct was taking place. In 1966 it would require photographs; in today’s world a webcam would do.
If an attorney were to become involved the attorney would notify Sam that the photographs must be suppressed (age of the dinosaurs thing) – evidence is a violation of privacy; no evidence and “case dismissed” – Tyler keeps on sexing and the rights of Dharun to his room is denied, the contract with Rutgers is void, Dharun’s lawyer sues for a return of deposits, for moving expenses, for an apartment elsewhere in the city, for punitive damages and exemplary damages at the least. Most probably Dharun’s attorney would sue Tyler too (and his parents as legally responsible, too, too). Ms. Wei’s attorney would join the suit as an interested party and with good practice the case would go “class action” in about one month.
So which way was the better way to “out” Tyler. By Tyler’s acts and behavior he “outed” himself unless he thought that the “theft of the dorm space” would be left alone. Did Dharun act stupidly and impulsively by leaving the attorneys out of it? The attorneys will be in it anyway. Is this a good “case” for Luanne Peterpaul and her friends? I think not. What the case is primarily about is the question of whether privacy rights are superior to property rights and what the responsibilities of schools (meaning mostly colleges and universities) are in upholding contracts regarding the appropriate uses of university housing.
It is my impression that the pendulum of university permissiveness as is manifest by the cult of non-involvement in student activities and affairs has swung too far. Parenthood is good. Parent involvement and awareness is necessary. If parents are not informed and do not get involved in loco parents must get involved. If a university fails to be a “strict” parent the attorneys will soon own all the schools one class-action suit at a time. The taxpayers will not be amused.
Sadly Mr. Ravi and Ms. Wei made the wrong choice. They should have hired attorneys and “outed” Mr. Clementi through the use of the courts, not the internet. In the future I do not believe that others will be so “dumb” when room-mates of either sex use educational facilities for sex and not for education. A room contract is just that, a right to have room to sleep, to study, to use ones computer – when one has a room-mate there is no right to be left alone.
So this gets back to the art of sky-diving and in this case the selection of the George Washington Bridge (which is not located in New Brunswick over the Raritan River). The George Washington Bridge in question is located in New York, about as far from New Brunswick, New Jersey as Reno is from Carson City, Nevada. Why didn’t the parachute open then, or now? Maybe it’s just fate. Every year another freshman must die. It kind of takes the veneer off college.