“[In] your position as headmaster, it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students that live in Silliman!” This was part of the delusional, arrogant invective of undergraduate Yale University student Jerelyn Luther to Nicholas Christakis, head of Yale’s Silliman College, last fall. Christakis was taking the stand that college students should be allowed to express themselves openly, even if that expression takes other students outside of their comfort zone. Luther did not agree. Her comfort zone has its own zip code, mayor and Starbucks. Hey, what would a comfort zone be without a Starbucks?
“You’re full of shit,” was the response from the head of the painting and drawing department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His charge was in regard to my paintings and my explanation about them during the first day of an independent class at SAIC in the 1980s.
Not to be outdone or to take this, my comeback was, “I think you’re full of shit.” The toe-to-toe screamfest that ensued lasted for about half an hour. It included such classic lines as, “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.” I think I picked that phrase up from Masterpiece Theatre? Maybe I should have said, “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, sir, my lord?” At one point I even thought that a right hook may be coming my way…
My first course the next day was another independent class—this time with my sculpture teacher, who said, “I heard there was quite an argument yesterday?” My silence was interrupted with, “He’s got a lot of respect for you. You stood up for yourself.”
If this incident happened today, the department head would have been fired immediately.
While this was the least intellectual critique I had ever been involved in, this verbal brawl truly tested my resolve. The attitude was… if you don’t like it, call your mommy and daddy to come and pick you up. If you’re looking for comfort, get a job testing blankies.
The need to be comfortable at all times generates and supports an outlook that people who are unknown are an “other”—that they are somewhat suspicious and possibly dangerous.
The soft serve vanilla brand of college student who needs safe rooms, trigger warnings and constant validation will end up creating a distance from the self and from dissimilar people and will lack the ability to truly engage in any deep or meaningful way.
The comfy, cozy bubble created for college students today will be popped when they enter the art world or any other professional environment. In their post-college life, these students will be eaten alive—well, unless their parents own a blankie factory. Chomp, chomp!
Michael Hopkins is a writer and artist who makes drawings, paintings, and sculptures. He has work in numerous museum collections including the Art Institute of Chicago. He has work in numerous corporate art collections including the Progressive Collection and the Wellcome Trust Collection in London, England. He is a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant recipient. michaelhopkinsdrawings.com
Top image: stock photo collage by Norbert Marszalek