May 28th, 2015

Getting credit for getting naked: a trip back in time

There’s been quite a bit of brouhaha about this course:

Visual arts students at the University of California, San Diego, must exhibit themselves in the buff before a naked class of 20 and a nude professor or fail an upper-level course, a disgusted mom told KGTV-TV.

But faculty members and former students defend the elective course and maintain that “performing the self” class participants may also employ figurative nudity to pass the final.

The issue is over a syllabus entry that refers to an “erotic self” assignment, requiring students to “create a gesture that traces the outlines or speaks about your ‘erotic self(s).’”…

“We had a choice between being nude or doing something emotionally ‘naked’ and every student but one chose to do the nude performance,” one commenter said. “It was uncomfortable for some of us but we were adults and knew what we were getting ourselves into from day one of the class.”

Count me unsurprised, because this sort of thing is hardly new. How do I know that? I encountered something similar in a graduate program in counseling in which I was briefly enrolled during the late 70s. I was a few years out of school but still quite young, which was typical of the students there.

The program had regular courses, but it also featured shorter workshops that a graduate student could take for less credit. I was a full-time student there, enrolled in a two-day workshop that was supposed to be about something like “Reading Body Language.” As an ex-dancer, I figured this would be right up my alley, but unlike some of the students I hadn’t heard the advance buzz about the course, which was that it involved getting naked.

The students were to sit in a semicircle on the floor towards the front of the room as the professor, a woman, explained what was about to happen. There were probably about twenty of us. We were instructed to go up to the front of the room two by two (our choice of a partner), face the audience, and disrobe. Then, standing next to each other, we were to rotate slowly around with quarter-turns, and then have the class members evaluate our posture and body language and what it meant about our psyches.

The teacher was careful to explain that no one had to disrobe any more than he/she felt comfortable with, but she encouraged us to go the full monty because that would be the most valuable in terms of the learning process. I was uncomfortable not just with the idea of disrobing myself, but with the idea of sitting there at the feet of a succession of naked people, most of whom I had never met before and most of whom (actually, all of whom) I had no desire to see naked. And that’s true even though we were all pretty young at the time.

I still remember the first volunteer, although I don’t recall who he was paired with. He seemed incredibly eager to do this; practically jumped up from his perch on the floor in order to go first. I realized almost immediately, as in one fluid motion he unzipped the one-piece jumpsuit he’d worn for the occasion and revealed that he had nothing whatsoever on under it, that he had known about the exercise in advance and planned ahead by choosing his outfit carefully.

I formulated my own plan. I volunteered to be in the second pairing. As I stood before the group, I slowly and carefully removed my shoes and socks, and then gave a little speech. In it I said that I was very uncomfortable with the exercise as a whole. I did not think we were trained properly to evaluate people’s bodies. I did not think this exercise had any educational value. I thought that people were going to feel coerced and pressured to remove more than they felt okay about even though they were given the choice, because of the group pressure involved. Most people didn’t want to convey the idea that they were wimps. So I had volunteered early in order to act as an example for anyone who might be feeling uncomfortable but shy about saying it, and I invited anyone who felt that way to join me in my pairing. One person did.

Even clothed, it was disturbing to be up there, pivoting and posing. I noticed that as the day wore on—and about half the students completely disrobed, with the remainder coming very close—I retained the same sense of outrage and upset, mostly about the subtle coercion and the stupidity of the assignment in general.

In order to get credit we had to write a paper on the experience. I used mine to criticize the workshop, among other things. I still have it in my files; it’s one of the few papers I’ve saved from my time in school. The following is an excerpt from it:

One reason for my feelings [of discomfort] seemed to be a sense of violation of my human dignity, even with my clothes on, at being coolly analyzed by a group of observers, even in the name of learning. I have a very well-developed sense of privacy and prefer to choose those with whom I become intimate, and I felt this sense to be violated both as an observer and a subject. It seemed very different from a dressing-room situation in which I am comfortable with seeing the nude bodies of strangers. Everyone’s tension level seemed very high, and there was something very cold, analytic, and coercive about the situation, at least as I perceived it. The extreme and dramatic image that kept coming to my mind, making me very sad and anxious, was that of concentration camp victims. It is certainly no accident that they were asked to disrobe in public before being killed, because of the sense of humiliation it engendered…

I realize that you, as leader, made it clear that we were able to resist the group pressure to disrobe if it didn’t feel right to us. I don’t know if the people who might be hurt the most by going along with the group pressure would be able to resist it. Also, it was nearly impossible, as an observer, to resist the group pressure to be instantly intimate by watching the nudity of others. I, as an observer, did not perceive the atmosphere to be particularly supportive or mature. I really felt that it was more an exercise in group inclusion than a teaching exercise. To me, the emphasis was not on learning to study the body as a therapeutic tool (after all, few of us will see our patients in the nude), but on the students themselves as clients, patients, group members, and fellow-travelers on the road to self-awareness…I was personally troubled by a confusion as to your aims and the aims of the other students. When I say it seemed to be a group inclusion exercise, I mean this in the same sense as an initiation rite. And, as with many initiations, the group seemed to feel that the more difficult the initiation the more valuable the group therefore must be.

I realize that am probably a minority of one in this group, but I wanted to write about it to tell you how a certain type of fairly private, reserved person might react. I am sure that some people have similar reactions, and perhaps you don’t often get feedback from them.

Later, I wrote:

…that is one big danger of [such exercises]. Acting-out, exhibitionist personalities are given the perfect stage on which to show each other how “free”‘ they are. To me, it proves nothing, except the potency of groups and the willingness of most people to follow the leader.

Looking back over thirty-five years later, I am struck by a few things, but they all come under the heading of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. One was how set my personality already seemed to be. Another was that, although I wrote this back when I was politically liberal—and didn’t see anything the least bit political in the situation or in my paper—it not only was deeply political but my stance revealed my conservatism without my realizing it, as well as my commitment to the rights of the individual and my awareness of follow-the-leader group coercion. It’s also clear how much the educational system had already attained its current liberal stance and attitudes.

I dropped out of the program entirely shortly after that. It was about twenty years before I went back and got my degree, in another program and another time.

24 Responses to “Getting credit for getting naked: a trip back in time”

  1. snopercod Says:

    What you experienced was a different version of the Milgram Experiment. I’m so proud of you for refusing to follow the authority figure.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    snopercod:

    I almost never followed the authority figure if I really objected to something. I’m not sure where that came from, but that’s the way it was. One thing was that I didn’t care if my grades suffered. I had confidence in my ability to do well in school.

    Of course, I never did face HUGE consequences. The stakes seemed low compared to what a lot of truly courageous people face out in the real world. But even in academia, where I saw the stakes as low, people were very afraid to defy the professors. I saw that over and over and over. As in the situation described above, when I stood up to authority I often had other students come to me afterward saying they were glad I did what I did and that they supported me. But they said it to me in private, too afraid to say it publicly. When I would ask some of them why they didn’t speak up in front of the whole class, they would say they were afraid their grades would suffer.

    I couldn’t believe it; it seemed such a relatively weak reason. But that’s all it took for most people. I suspect, however, there were other reasons—mainly, fear of sticking out from the group.

  3. Griffin Says:

    Did you get any feedback from the ‘instructor’ on your paper?

  4. George Pal Says:

    Take at hazard one hundred children of several educated generations and one hundred uneducated children of the people and compare them in anything you please; in strength, in agility, in mind, in the ability to acquire knowledge, even in morality — and in all respects you are startled by the vast superiority on the side of the children of the uneducated. Count Leo Tolstoy, “Education and Children” (1862)

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  5. A_Nonny_Mouse Says:

    Bravo for you, honestly.

    I’ve always wondered WHAT it is that makes some people strong enough — “centered” enough — to stand firm against the pressure to conform. (In your case, you resisted the “expectation of submission” from both your teacher *and* your fellow students.)

    How can we teach this “moral strength” to others?

  6. T Says:

    Neo,

    “The extreme and dramatic image that kept coming to my mind, making me very sad and anxious, was that of concentration camp victims.”

    That was also my first thought upon reading this post. The connection has little to do with nudity and much to do with coercion, intended humiliation and the intended victimization of another human being..

    A Nonny Mouse,

    “I’ve always wondered WHAT it is that makes some people strong enough — “centered” enough — to stand firm against the pressure to conform.”

    I suggest a strong sense of self-worth and self-confidence and the ability to disconnect from the herd mentality of being a team player. One can only be independent if one is willing to abandon the “I was just following orders” defense.

    As an undergraduate student I was not like this. As a graduate student and university faculty member I was both able and willing to do this, especially with academic bureaucrats.

  7. T Says:

    Neo,

    Another thought. Art schools conduct life drawing classes (i.e., drawing unclothed models) all the time and yet rarely, if ever, raise the criticism and ire of offended parents and students.

    Several possible differences:

    Mastering the art of drawing the unclothed human body is viewed as necessary training in becoming an artist. In psychology and sociology does the unclothed human body really contribute anything to the discipline or is it an excuse to ogle (emotional content) under the rationale of intellectual content?

    Usually life-drawing models undress privately and enter the drawing class in a robe which is then quickly and unceremoniously discarded. The undressing is a private act, not a public strip without the tease; in your counseling class it would seem that the disrobing was the activity of choice (“The teacher was careful to explain that no one had to disrobe any more than he/she felt comfortable with . . . “) and some article of clothing, however minimal, had to come off.

    Finally, life-drawing models are not recruited from the drawing class itself, but are paid jobs which people (mostly students) have volunteered to do. Not being a life-drawing model has no impact on whether one passes a life-drawing class.

    I understand academic freedom and the need to explore new, and even fringe, ideas. With that said, I call “bullshit” on both of these classes.

  8. parker Says:

    Bravo neo. I was taught as a child to never follow the herd. Mom and dad were both very independent and stubborn role models which I was always willing to mirror back at them during my teen years. 😉

  9. Lizzy Says:

    Great response, NEO. I can’t think of any class where it would be necessary to have students strip naked for critical evaluation by the other students.

    In addition, this age of cellphone cameras, instagram, youtube, etc. I would be especially doubtful that this demonstration of one’s “erotic self” wouldn’t end up somewhere online and/or saved for later viewing by the pervy professor.

  10. miklos000rosza Says:

    You were very brave.

  11. starlord Says:

    All I can say is thank God that getting an engineering degree didn’t involve engineering students disrobing. Generally speaking, it’s not a student population that spends a lot of time working on appearance…
    in any case the professors had plenty of other ways to humiliate us — one guy used to staple a Kmart application to the exams of students who didn’t do well, and made sure he drew attention to his pranks by making fun of the students who bombed. Besides their political views, some of them are simply arrogant jerks.
    But your letter to the instructor was extremely well stated, and seemed to be speaking with a voice that was far more mature and eloquent than most people your age, and far more than that of your instructor. I imagine you have always been someone with a lot of courage and character.

  12. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    Did your instructor respond at all?

  13. Gail Finke Says:

    I don’ think I could have done that as an undergrad, at least in the first two years, and did not go to grad school until I was in my 40s, so I don’t know what I would have done. However, one of the seminal books in my intellectual life was “Obedience to Authority,” which I read my junior or senior year and which made a huge impression on me. I resolved to take responsibility for my actions and not let others — especially some person in an authority position but who was not an authority — sway me. I don’t know that I’ve always accomplished that but I sure have tried.

  14. Ymarsakar Says:

    What is this conformity people speak of?

    Is it like when a dog rolls over to submit before the Master, since it is not strong enough to take the power of the Master?

  15. Ymarsakar Says:

    Also, this is why Neo’s change story doesn’t convince me that a whole lot of others will do the same. Her integrity and strength of will was something inherent to her. It’s not something gained by education or intellectual prowess. Thus people cannot become like her, since she is exceptional, and that means statistically other people won’t change the way she changed.

    Humans are weak. They desire leaders to tell them what to do and that is what they will get, one way or another.

  16. neo-neocon Says:

    Mrs Whatsit:

    I remember her saying something to me after class, but I actually don’t remember what. By the way, I also pointed out to her (I believe in a private conversation after class) that I thought it interesting that SHE was exempt from disrobing and standing in front of the class.

    On the paper I turned in, however, there is a little note from the professor that reads, “Jean–I appreciated your taking time to share your negative reactions with me” and then she suggested I read this book.

  17. Lee Says:

    T —

    True about the life drawing models. Also, you’re concentrating so hard on drawing them, they are not live beings, but shapes, and shadows, and textures. It’s the same process as drawing a still life, in a sense while you are drawing them. But back when I was drawing life models, no one sat on a position where the genitals would feature prominently in the drawing, and no one drew the gavials genitalia in much detail.

    Neoneocon —
    The link didn’t go much of any where where there was a book…

  18. Ymarsakar Says:

    The Left complains much about Gitmo’s enhanced interrogation of foreign terrorists, the Left’s actual allies, because they don’t like their monopoly on coercion to be dispersed to patriots or organizations set out on hurting Leftists or Leftist allies.

    It is not the coercion, the pain, or the effectiveness they dislike. It’s the fact that it works too well and isn’t under the control of Leftists. Leftists love mind control, brain washing, and interrogation protocols. They have made use of several secretive and lesser known techniques over the centuries.

  19. Ymarsakar Says:

    The whole body language thing can’t be learned by reading your own body. It’s learned by physically trapping a subject and then reading their body language via external stimuli while cross checking results.

    Human predators often interview the potential prey, to suss out which among the herd is the weakest, the most isolated, the slowest to run. This skill set is not developed in isolation, but as a kind of play or art in life.

    One difference from the past and now is that students were often research subjects and guinea pigs for the Left’s R and D process. The bosses didn’t get naked because they were the researchers and the students the guinea pigs. Now a days, the researchers have gone native and are participating in their own hedonism. Perhaps because they now can or perhaps because the Left’s R and D has reached certain goals.

    Hunter kill squads have a similar initiation rite as well as death cults. It’s designed to tear down the personal barriers so that the subject learns to obey the group consensus. Once they can overcome the stress barriers on private matters, ordering them to kill or slaughter “Others” that are outside themselves, becomes much less of a stress test. Small unit teasing and hazing, designed to artificially induce stress in the subject to test if they will break in combat or not, is also similar.

    These control techniques are not known to many, because even the ones that use them, don’t necessarily have a supreme intellectual or emotional understanding of them. Much like a cargo cult, if it works, they don’t really care how it works.

  20. n.n Says:

    The sexual (e.g. gender equivalence) revolution is notorious for causing unprecedented levels of collateral damage. Not only did it cause the mass murder of tens of millions of wholly innocent human lives (i.e. debasement of human life), but it was the anthropogenic forcing for a broad range of catastrophic outcomes, including failed relationships and marginalized dignity.

  21. Ymarsakar Says:

    It is merely the prelude to the Left’s true nature, their perfect utopia for humanity, what I might call Slavery 3.0

  22. Sarah Rolph Says:

    I was a model for a life drawing class a couple of times in college. I found it fascinating. I had expected to feel a bit vulnerable, but instead I felt very safe. The artists were not looking at *me* in the usual sense. They were, as Lee explains, looking at lines and shapes, and they were working. I had a very strong sense of the effort each artist was making, and a sense of how serious an endeavor it was for them, to try to capture the human form skillfully and perhaps with some beauty. In a certain sense, they were the ones in the vulnerable position (because the work revealed how much skill and talent each one had). To cooperate in this way created an interesting type of intimacy and trust.

    Pretty much the complete opposite of your experience.

    Thank you for telling us this story. It really goes to the heart of what we need more of today–courage in the public square would be one way of putting it. Thank you for being a role model for that and for articulating the issues so well.

  23. Ymarsakar Says:

    Some people hit upon key concepts involved in why humans are born and trained to Obey Authority, no matter the cost, as social animals first and foremost.

    A key concept is survival, implied there is the personal resources of an individual. If a person has enough resources to survive, then their ability to be coerced lessens. Blackmail, social pressure, taking family members hostage, all are derivative branches of the same principle, personal and genetic survival. The human system does not really make much of a difference between the survival of the clan vs the survival of the individual, because unless the clan survived, the individual could not survive unless they joined another tribe as their slave. As a human becomes promoted in his or her hierarchy, as they obtain more personal resources, their tendency to Obey Authority also lessens, because their fear of exile also lessens. Just some individuals have had this abundance self confidence or arrogant pride in their early days, they didn’t need age to give it to them. They didn’t need a job or a title or social authorities to give it to them. They already had it, inherent to their birth or soul.

    Another key concept is willpower. Even if a person had the resources to survive, if they lack the confidence and the willpower to do things, then it would be easy for an outside force to control them with threats or promises of greater rewards. Willpower can be objectively assessed through pain, hedonistic pleasure, and via direct eye to eye contact without looking away. The strongest humans in existence can overcome their natural instinct to obey pain and pleasure. The strongest humans can maintain eye contact with anyone for more than 60 minutes straight, with no breaks other than eye blinks. Willpower is not merely the ability to master yourself, but it is also the ability to project self mastery over others, including animals, in your immediate vicinity. Some people call it charisma or magnetic personality.

    And yet another concept, this one is a bit muddy, is that obedience operates under a chain of command, or a hierarchy, so external authority no longer applies if an internal authority has already conquered the territory and the loyalty of the people. Unless an Authority can claim to supersede the local authority in some fashion, the orders of the Authority will not command obedience very well. This is often seen in cultural or military invasions, as the occupation attempts to coral the locals. The power of any authority decreases the farther away they are, and it decreases even further the less power or ruthlessness they have. So one of the easier ways to lock out all non authorized commands is to set in an administrator exclusive level of access. Have God command you to use your free will in all things, so that no human subordinate or temporal agency can override that command in the human hierarchy. By accepting the omnipotency of God as the Sole Authority, this prevents others from mind controlling you, except through direct physical methods that can access the neural channels which connect to your brain or soul. The exception is when people worship idols or priests, and take the word of a prophet like child molestor Mohammed, as being the direct word of God. In that sense, it’s easy to obtain administrator privileges for a human, which means they can override the free will of any true believer.

  24. Ymarsakar Says:

    http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20130330/NEWS02/703309859

    This is what the Left will do, not as an end goal, but merely as a means.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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