Coming of Age in New Jersey: College and American Culture

By Michael Moffatt | Go to book overview
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plained to a freshman girl the next day, "and then there's the power ralph.")50 He played pranks on some of the freshmen on the floor, rather than vice versa; and he briefed the freshmen males in detail about college traditions of minor vandalism as he knew them. And it was an open secret on the floor that he smoked pot occasionally. Yet when push came to shove on Erewhon Third in 1978-1979, when there was conflict and dissension-- when there were possible racial problems on the floor about which the whole college was being informed--he was in there, doing his best. Which made all the difference.On Hasbrouck Fourth in 1984, after late November, Pete was really not there any longer. And how could a floor whose central undergraduate personage was demonstrably unfriendly be a normal friendly place?
Further Comments
One Italian exchange student at Rutgers told me that her college housing in Italy had been like this, just a place to live. And in her first month or two in the Rutgers dorm, she could not understand why everyone around her was always so "friendly." It all seemed very strange, she said.
These deanly terms and quotes are all taken from the same pamphlet quoted in the epigraph to this chapter ( Rutgers College n.d.), but they recur in many other written and oral sources.
I do not mean to imply that the deans did not have their own more realistic perspectives as well; they weren't stupid. But American individualism is ideologically so coercive that they simply could not articulate them in official documents of the sort quoted here, or at least these particular deans felt they could not. The deans also became very proficient at talking this language much of the time. For some of the reasons identified by George Orwell in "Politics and the English Language" ( 1946), officialese did, through its vagueness, serve the useful purpose of keeping them out of unnecessary trouble. One often had to know them well, in fact, to realize that deanly officialese did not totally, naively, define everything about the way they thought. One dean I knew at Rutgers once signaled his shift out of this opaque language into 'what is really going on', for instance, by warning me that he was about to do a little "low talk"--"and I better not find what I'm about to tell you, Michael, in your book!"


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