“You Are A Piece of Dirt”

Lynn Staley, Harrington and Shirley Drake Professor of the Humanities And Medieval & Renaissance Studies

I actually said those words to the young man in the royal blue shirt with white designs on it, wearing bermudas and a red baseball cap, whose tan legs were positioned parallel to one another well into my side yard as he peed into my bushes. It was just before 7 p.m. on a Saturday evening, and I was in the yard checking on the fire in my grill. His friends were standing goofily on the sidewalk watching. He ran away, and neither I nor the police I called managed to catch him. Had I been wearing running shoes and not flats, I think I could have caught this drunk student trying to zip his fly on the run.

I live on Maple Avenue. My neighbors are other professors, people who work in the high school and an older couple now retired. There are usually young children up and down the sidewalks of Maple Avenue.

I am not going to ask the obvious: 1) How would you feel if your mother found a strange man urinating in her side/almost backyard? 2) Can you understand why we who live in the village (even professors) loathe having student neighbors? 3) Why do you say you love Colgate and Hamilton and yet treat us with contempt?

We already have lots of very busy police. The university has many rules in place about drinking and antisocial behavior.

Can I suggest that this is something students need to work on for themselves? What about de-pledging/de-activating someone who behaves badly? What about doing it without a nudge from a dean? What about trying a week without alcohol, just to see what the world is like? What about taking the liberal arts seriously and thinking about your behavior as it affects others, asking why you must swill without joy in order to call it a good time? What about taking responsibility for your friends? Pull them away from someone’s yard, pick up the pizza carton they just threw down, hush them when they yell at 2 a.m. What might happen if we thought about creating a community out of mutual respect?

If that young man and his friends would like to come and talk with me, I will walk them down the street and tell them who lives here. I can also tell them we are all pieces of dirt, shaped and given breath and the potential for joy. One of my ways into joy is my yard, the plants I tend, the beauty they produce for anyone with open eyes and heart. I would also tell him that I have wonderful students, and his apologies should go to his fellows.