College has always been about pranks, the more bizarre the better. Swallowing goldfish shocked the home folks in Grandpa's day. Panty raids scandalized generations that followed, and then came stuffing a half-dozen co-eds, as the young women were once quaintly called, into a telephone booth. (Ain't we got fun?)
Stealing panties is hardly shocking when boys and girls live together, sharing bedrooms, bathrooms, closets and everything else, no doubt occasionally even panties. Animal-rights fanatics would shut down the campus now if someone even suggested snacking on a goldfish. Everybody's got a cell phone, and no one can remember a telephone booth.
Nevertheless, Joe College and Carolyn Campus must find something dumb enough to shock the grown-ups who pay the bills. The difference is that pranksters on the contemporary campus take the prank seriously, mixing political perversity with sexual exhibitionism. Or is it mixing sexual perversity with political exhibitionism? Students at Columbia University, for example, ape contemporaries at Yale and Brown with a bash with only one rule, that everything you wear to the party has to be left at the door.
"Compadres," reads the invitation obtained by the New York Sun, "join us in refusing to comply with a culture that tells us to hide our [sic] body, to be ashamed of its scents, secretions, curves, and hair, to conceal those parts that have been dealt sexual connotations." It demands ending the bondage known as "clothing" in exchange for partying "like the savages we really are."
The young scholars are in dead earnest, and signal that even though Columbia University has not abandoned its core curriculum, remaining one of the few elite schools to require study in Western civilization, the folks on Morningside Heights are just as hip as the kids in Harvard Yard. They pride themselves on challenging the status quo, which is difficult, since it's almost impossible to find a quo to challenge.
The only authentic challenge to a campus quo might be dressing modestly, in clean clothes and leather shoes, dancing to a waltz and sipping Earl Grey from a china cup. Behavior this shocking would have deprived a certain Yale student of the learning experience of interaction with law and order. He pleaded "no contest" to fourth-degree sexual assault after a young woman accused him of drugging and attacking her at a party where clothing was not optional.