Guest Op-Ed: A Week-Long Game of Cat and Mouse

The Senior Streak has, since its inception, been a mindless and innocuous (provided participants don’t trip and fall) event. It neither seeks nor wants University approval—isn’t that, at least in part, the point? Moreover, its primary goal is celebratory in the same vein as the naked bicyclists at the Fremont Solstice Festival: good people doing something a little outrageous. It could even be argued that it serves a mental health function at a very stressful time of the academic year; we’re all worn down by the end of spring quarter and a little relief (akin to de-stressing with dogs) seems quite desirable. If you are here expecting to read arguments about artistic freedom or the right of free expression, I’m sorry to disappoint you. It’s a streak, for God’s sake! While it has in fact reached the level of a tradition—one very much anticipated, let’s not make it more than it is.

Unfortunately that is exactly what happened this year. In the latest example of the University’s “litigo-phobia,” a memo from the Dean of Students raised the event to the level of an anarchic assault on all values American, Catholic, Jesuit, and (it still pains me to say this word) Redhawk. It was alleged that streaking “creates a climate for sexual harassment;” the rationale for this claim utterly escapes me. The memo pointed out that there are “now” minors on SU’s campus, but the reality is that we have had minors on campus since MRC debuted in the late 70’s. The Redhawk Code of Conduct is cited as prohibiting “exposure of one’s body, especially one’s genitals, in a public place and in a way considered offensive to established standards of decency.”

It would be difficult to convince those who participate and/or attend this event that the streakers are engaged in an offensive activity. And finally the claim is made that streaking violates “SU’s commitment to creating a campus climate that is inclusive, welcoming and respectful of all.” I would think that during the Commencement week, the population we should most wish to honor and respect would be our graduating seniors.

The result of this memo, interestingly sent on the day after the Spectator had been put to bed for the year, was consternation, rumors, and—inevitably—resistance. Several students indicated that the University was pulling the rug out from under the most popular and best attended student tradition of the year. Others asked me whether participation could result in expulsion from the University or exclusion from Commencement and/or whether their participation might be reported to professional licensing agencies. Overreaction on their part? Perhaps, but certainly no more so than the memo which prompted their concerns. And as a result of all this what should have been a 15-minute occasion for organized insanity turned into a week-long game of cat and mouse or spy versus spy which left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Is there a reason to think about the wisdom of the streak? There may be, but it is not what was suggested. A memo to the following effect might have been seen as supportive rather than punitive. As we all know, the “You Tube” culture records and posts even the most trivial of events. Our students are as addicted to this behavior as anyone, and there is no question that someone in the crowd would be likely to record and post a streak video. What Student Development might have done is to remind participants, that, when the event remained “in-house,” there were no repercussions. But the fact of the matter is that the University is not in control of what students do with their personal videos nor how others will use the posted videos. We have far too much evidence of government agencies and employers mining the web for information about citizens or employees. Student participants in the streak might, in fact, someday regret participating in a way that allows them to be identified. A memo in this vein casts the videographers/posters/users in the “bad guy” role—a definite plus for the University. By the same token it might encourage the participants to be a little more cognizant of the possible ramifications of participation and thus encourage the use of masks—not a bad idea for those entering upon careers. This seems a win-win possibility.

In my mind it is ridiculous to be writing an editorial comment about streaking, but it is even more ridiculous that one needs to be written.

–Dr. David Madsen, associate professor of history and medieval studies