March 9, 2005: On the Campus
Making a statement, sans inhibitions
By David Baumgarten ’06
Among the unusual topics covered in professor Michael Litchman’s Abnormal Psychology class this fall, the most surprising visual didn’t appear in a textbook or on a lecture slide. It came in life-size form on Dec. 7, when four students filed down the stairs in the middle of the lecture — sans clothing.
It was the first truly public appearance of the recently formed Princeton varsity streaking team, the brainchild of two students, Scott ’06 and Danny ’05 (they asked their last names not be used). Taking inspiration from an early-November New York Times article about the Hamilton College streaking team, Scott and Danny decided to build Princeton a team worthy of the University’s tradition of academic and athletic excellence. After a few nighttime practice runs, the team streaked (or, more accurately, sauntered) through the Ab Pysch lecture, and has since made appearances in settings ranging from Frist Campus Center to Tower Club.
So why are they doing it? For victory, Scott and Danny explain. Calling their appearances competitions, they make it clear they consider themselves real athletes. They’re not exactly sure what constitutes a win, but they’re certain they’re undefeated so far.
At the same time, though, they’re making a statement. “A lot of people at Princeton seem afraid of going against the grain, of breaking the rules,” Scott says. “We’re providing an opportunity to show it’s OK to break free of societal constraints.” It seems a number of students were waiting for that opportunity — the roster had grown to more than 30 by early February. Most of the group are men, but a few women have joined in.
This isn’t the first time Princeton students have shed their clothing en masse for a cause. In the early 1970s, the campus — like many across the country — was overtaken by a streaking craze. Two juniors’ nude antics in Holder Courtyard on a snowy day in December 1970 are believed to have been the precursor of the Nude Olympics. Meanwhile, thanks to infamous bandits with monikers like the “Red Baron” (who wore a World War I flier’s hat, a red cape, and nothing else), the appearance of nude students in classes became commonplace.
But by the end of the decade, the streaking fad faded. Public nudity at Princeton far from disappeared, but it became a pursuit almost exclusively of the intoxicated. The Nude Olympics returned every winter, but soon became an excuse for drunken chaos — prompting the Board of Trustees to outlaw it in 1999.
In stark contrast, the streaking team finds the courage to show skin without the help of alcohol. Just as no member of the track team would show up to a meet drunk, Scott explains, neither do he and his teammates. “We’re not about sexuality or debauchery,” he says. “We’re about freedom and victory.” Moreover, Danny says, “the idea is not to be naked and to have no inhibitions because you artificially removed them, but because you’re comfortable with it.”
Not everyone is comfortable with it, though. Litchman notes that a few of his students told him they were offended by the team’s appearance in his class. And although he good-humoredly took the appearance in stride — “I’m a product of a time period when streaking was very common” — Litchman says he’s “not convinced the classroom is the appropriate venue” to make such social statements.
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students Hilary Herbold, who oversees discipline, said the streakers are violating University rules and would likely be subject to disciplinary probation if apprehended. “We’re not going to condone it just because there’s a wave,” she says. “It’s still considered a violation of the community standard to be unclothed in public.” As of early February, the team had yet to have a run-in, so to speak, with Public Safety.
“It would be a shame if they didn’t feel the spirit and decided to go after us,” Scott says, explaining that he hopes administrators would discuss their objections diplomatically rather than sending Public Safety after the team. For her part, Herbold says she’d be “willing to have a conversation in the spirit of open dialogue.”
In truth, the team is already forcing that conversation upon the campus — a recent full-page spread in The Daily Princetonian’s “Street” section featured a large photo of the team in action. Still, the question remains, is the campus ready for the streaking team?
“Well,” Danny says, an innocent grin spreading across his face, “it’s not really the campus’ call.”
David Baumgarten ’06 is a politics major from Richmond, Va.
On the Campus Online: Go to www.princeton. edu/paw to read “Smoke Signals” by Ashley Johnson ’05.