John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

John Gardner’s Coming Out Party in College

October 22, 2015huhnInsights1

John N. Garnder

John Gardner copyLike some of my readers perhaps, I have been back to my alma mater, Marietta College of Ohio, many times since graduating 50 years ago. I returned to be awarded an honorary degree twenty years to the day from when I graduated (1985). I have visited numerous times to speak to students. I served on the Board of Trustees for twelve years. And I have been involved in numerous projects involving the work of the faculty and staff on improving the first year, dating back to 1979, many involving campus visits. But this blog posting is prompted by the occasion of my returning in October, 2015, for my Fiftieth Anniversary Class of 1965 reunion.

It was not a good year for men to graduate from college, as it was the first year of the Vietnam War buildup. In order to escape the war I went to graduate school but was drafted a year later anyway. Many of my classmates married immediately after graduation in order to earn a draft deferment. At my reunion I saw some of them who had done so. Not me.

On this return to alma mater though I was not engaging in any professional business. And so I had time and opportunity to do some things I had wanted to do but had never gotten around to.

One of those things was a visit to the College Library Special Collections department where the past editions of the student newspaper, The Marcolian, are archived. I had long remembered the single most important event in my four years at Marietta, important in the sense that it changed my place in the College and how others saw me. Quite simply, it was a letter that I wrote to the student newspaper to protest certain actions of my fellow students. After the letter’s publication, students and faculty alike never saw me the same again. They had read a John Gardner they had never known before. There was no going back. I could not put the genie back in the bottle. I feel like my true adult journey as a crusader for certain kinds of justice began with this letter.

I penned, literally, this letter in anger, dismay, disillusionment after witnessing, and attempting to counter a student riot of sorts. The event so disturbed me that immediately afterwards I left the campus and took the Greyhound bus to New York City and holed up for six days until I felt like I had regained sufficient perspective to return to college. While away, I wrote a letter to the editor of the student newspaper, which was published in my absence from campus. The first day back I could immediately see both my professors and fellow students looking at me differently. I did not save a copy of that letter. So on this return visit to alma mater when I was searching for perspectives on the meaning of my times as an undergraduate student, I found a librarian special collections archivist who retrieved a copy of my letter and provided me a photocopy.

This is what I had written:

Dear Editor:

Thursday evening Mar. 7, a man driving a cab owned by the New Cab Co. of Marietta, turned into Butler Street from Seventh Street and coming upon the water, which still covered the road, he foolishly entered the field along the road and attempted to make a “U” turn.

 Having half completed his circle, he was halted by the mud. This was soon noticed by someone on a concourse of Men’s Residence # 2 and as a few more men became aware of the cab in the field, they began to yell.

 Few Begin Yelling

 These few yelling drew more men out and within a matter of several minutes a large percentage of the dorm’s 192 men were on their concourses mocking the cab driver in his efforts to get his vehicle free from the mud.

 Despite the mass verbal encouragement and aid as well as accompanying recorded circus music and trumpeting, the driver could not move the cab. Furthermore, the cab driver’s efforts were illuminated for the amusement of the spectators by a student-directed spotlight.

 Heckling Increases

 The driver eventually got out of his car and immediately the heckling unanimously increased in intensity; and finally, when he was a few yards away from the dorm he was welcomed by cries of “HOOPEE—SPIT ON HIM SPIT ON HIM” and unprintable vulgarities.

 He asked for no help from Men’s Resdience # 2 and none was offered. He reached his brother on the telephone who in a few minutes arrived in his Jeep and succeeded in pulling the cab out of the field.

 Cheer Men On

 Meanwhile the women in the dormitories across the street were flashing lights and cheering the men on. However, they did not stop their encouragement after the cab was gone. The men having already acted as a mass with the encouragement of the women acted as a mob and stampeded into the street as animals would and in a frenzy yelled “PANTY RAID, PANTY RAID.”

 Although their numbers swelled, there was no leader. A mass action had been accomplished, a mob action had not, but it was not due to lack of potential.

 Questions Justification

 Now on the basis of these incidents, how do the residents of these particular buildings justify their actions? How do they justify them in light of their Christian ideals which preach brotherhood, respect for others, and help for those brothers in need?

 How can they justify their emotional and frenzied actions as students in an institution of higher learning, where theoretically, they are attempting to confront situations intelligently, objectively and maturely?

 Destroy Dignity

 And how according to the moral code of our western culture, which maintains the dignity of the individual, can the students of Marietta College justify their destruction of one man’s dignity and their own consequent self-degradation?

 And finally, in light of these student actions, how does Marietta College justify the following statement found on the rear cover of every Marietta College Bulletin: “Marietta College has been dedicated to the task of helping our nation prepare young people to become intelligent, useful members of our society. It further seeks to develop new leaders for a Christian democracy…….”

 John N. Gardner

Men’s Residence # 2



One Comment

  1. Dana Lee LingOctober 25, 2015 at 6:49 amReply

    An amazing letter bravely written. Living out in Micronesia has meant not returning to alma maters or reconnecting with those institutions. There is an element of isolation to living on a remote tropical island, and yet I there is the continuous sense of being connected that comes with living in the ultimate small town. Thanks for sharing those events from that time. I was a tad younger, but my parents were active in matters of civil rights and open housing. I grew up politically and socially aware. Two years after that incident I would be entered into a voluntary busing program that would put me in the first integrated school in the district in which I grew up. I went from a segregated school to an integrated school, one of those events that changes the arc of one’s life.

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