Some people are great drivers on a road with painted lines, but put them in an open parking lot, an open field, and they’re lost. Without lines, they have no clue where to go. They need structure. And it’s not enough that they get structure for themselves, but they demand that the structure they need be imposed on everyone else.
How is it possible that they could need structure and others don’t? How is it possible that others will do things that fail to comport with the structure that makes sense of the world to them? These are the rule-demanders, and they love them rules. They love rules for themselves. They love rules for you. They love rules.
Now, the current crop of pioneers at Antioch are moving the conversation beyond sex to discussions of consent in platonic touch.
When Alyssa Navarrette, a third-year student who is studying anthropology and art, came home for her first visit after starting college, she was taken by surprise when her mother hugged her.
“If you don’t want to be touched and your mom wants to hug you, you should be allowed to say no,” Ms. Navarrette said. “It’s about having autonomy over your own body.”
The squishy concept of the “reasonable man,” subsequently changed to the reasonable person as ironic recognition of the fact that the word man was offensive to some, taught that normalcy and propriety should not be based upon the sensibilities of the most fragile and delicate in society. There were always people for whom the norm was too . . . normal, and who wanted greater protection for their needs, their feelings, than the norm could provide.
We refused to allow them to set the bar. For one thing, there was no bottom to the feelings of fragility, as someone would be hurt, offended, outraged, by anything, so to that person, anything and everything was off-limits and needed to be prohibited. For another, it provided no notice, so no one would have a clue what they were prohibited from doing, what would give offense to that one particularly delicate soul.
The norms arose organically, out of whatever the majority of people decided was the proper way to behave. Norms could change, and they often did, and so the rule-demanders saw no reason why they shouldn’t continue to change to align with their feelings.
“It’s a framework for how to engage with everyone, on every level,” said Angel Nalubega, a 22-year-old fourth-year history major and a dorm resident adviser. “It helps promote respect for all people in the community.”
“Respect” certainly sounds like a good thing to promote, except this was a rationalization to justify the creation of rules that met her feelings at the expense of respecting other people’s choices. And, as students at the University of Pennsylvania learned, it carried a steep price.
Cami Potter first spotted a professional party pooper in September.
She’d just finished another excruciatingly long week at the University of Pennsylvania. The 21-year-old senior, who writes for the school’s 34th Street magazine on top of studying English and cinema, needed to unwind. So she went to a party off campus — actually, “party” is too strong a word for it, she says: “I don’t even think we had music.” Potter threw back a couple of drinks and mingled with some fellow students. Then, as she stepped outside to leave, the enforcers arrived.
The “enforcers” sounds ominous, and, indeed, they were.
These university employees, technically known as “event observers,” told the college students to scram. But they didn’t tell the students why they were being reprimanded, according to Potter: “That’s where it gets blurry.” After all, she and her friends weren’t on campus.
Potter also says the workers were wearing bulletproof vests and arrived with police officers: “People were very scared. To have anybody show up in a bulletproof vest anywhere you are can be a little bit alarming.” On top of their apparently sub-par communication skills and SWAT-team getup, there’s something else unusual about Penn’s event observers: They don’t just bust frat parties. They monitor students at all social gatherings.
Was there a room somewhere in the bowels of a UPenn student union where the sparrows waited for a red light to flash, signifying a party somewhere, anywhere, where students were having unsafe, unacceptable fun? Were they drinking demon rum? Were they uttering prohibited words? Were they breaking the rules?
When people get hurt, the community springs into action. Students say that what they and their predecessors have built here isn’t perfect, but that the culture is as close to an ideal as they’ve seen.
For the rule-demanders, the ideal is that no one ever get hurt. For others, the ideal is that they enjoy a little freedom and have, dare I say it, fun.
Hiring event observers isn’t all the university is doing to put the kibosh on good times. Penn has created something of a party-pooper industrial complex. Last year, the university unveiled new rules aimed at controlling social events even as it beefed up enforcement of old ones. If your student organization throws a party, on campus or off, regardless of size, you need to register it.
The rules derived from the well-intended desire to prevent the purported “epidemic” of campus sexual assault. Who could be against preventing sexual assault?
“In the student discourse,” says Spinelli, “the common theme was [that] Penn introduced a task force to stop sexual assault, and instead, it’s not allowing anyone to go to a party. Even though that’s not entirely true, there’s an element of truth to it.”
While the slippery slope is a logical fallacy, it’s neither fallacious nor slippery when the first step is taken with the intention of reaching the bottom, which is where rule-demanders want to be and always intended to reach. It’s not that they didn’t want to stop sexual assaults, in their expansive definition, but that they knew that freedom and fun were the root cause of their sadness and pain. Someone was having fun somewhere and that was wrong. It must stop.
Does that mean a person can’t tell her mom that she doesn’t care to be hugged? Not at all, even if it makes you an unappreciative, entitled, narcissistic little teacup. It’s your mom, for crying out loud. But once you empower the sparrows to make your rules, don’t be surprised when the price of your ideally safe world is the end of fun at the mandate of bulletproof vest wearing goons. That was always the plan, even if the rationalizations of “respect” never mentioned it.