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Friday, May 1, 2015

What do you say to a naked lady?

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Recently a young woman at Texas State sat naked on the steps of
the library as an art project. I think people would call it performance art. So, what would I do, as an administrator if it happened here? I also wonder how others feel. Some initial thoughts:

It's weird
Being naked in public just seems... unnatural. I mean, she wasn't wearing (hardly) any clothes and people could see she was naked. Several years ago a student in California known as The Naked Guy wore the emperor's clothes. Sometimes people do things in the name of art to simply draw attention to themselves. Or maybe they are troubled.

It's oddly sexist
If a guy did this people would be creeped out and would call him a pervert, or worse, just laugh at him.

It's art
Really, in this case it is expression, and art really is expression. Though unconventional she did communicate something to others... I am impressed with her courage if not her boldness. What started as odd actually morphed more from spectacle to message, at least for the thoughtful.

It's unfair to the other art students
...but of course most people take longer to do their artwork. So is it really art? It is possible she hadn't been doing well in class, and thought "oh crap, this is due today" and ran out to the library with her blindfold and headphones... Meanwhile, someone is laboring for weeks on his or her project. I could see that as unfair.

It makes the University choose between rules and expression
Sure, most universities have policies that explicitly or implicitly state that people should wear clothes. Sure, some people might be offended by this woman's actions. On the other hand, students do offensive things on most campuses on most weekends, and with much less thought or virtue. Universities are the open market places of ideas. In this case, people may be compelled to talk about the point of her art and the statement she is making in substantive ways. Or not.

In this case she did not violate any law and apparently no policies. I think Texas State handled it well. The story didn't become about them.

Free speech - again
Sometimes people have important things to say. Sometimes they have crude and rude things to say. And sometimes people are fighting oppression against themselves or others. Generally, even offensive speech is good speech because it stimulates ideas, allows students to find their voices, and helps them learn to choose their battles, to push back, and to be assertive while being civil.

To wrap it up...
I tend to think that if this happened here people would let it go. We let Calvert Ghosts happen. (That is a Halloween streaking tradition. We let that take place because it is relatively small, it isn't alcohol-driven,  the students are more like naked tots running from the bath to the bedroom with glee than anything harmless, and because we want to see naked people.)

What do you think? Weigh in on the poll at the upper right.

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