At first glance, these two young Yalies, Paul Clewell and Elisha Dov Hack, aren't very dissimilar; they're both young men from fairly average middle-class backgrounds (their grades got them into Yale, not their families' pull). They arrived on campus with firm beliefs and a knowledge that their beliefs would be tested at Yale.
The difference is in how they've reacted.
Mr. Hack, 20, is one of the "Yale 5," a group of Orthodox Jewish students now suing Yale to let them live off campus (Yale rules say almost all freshmen must live on campus). The problem, they say, is the anything-goes atmosphere in the Yale dorms; most residential buildings are co-ed, and bizarrely, most bathrooms and (unofficially) many bedrooms are, too.
"When I entered last summer on an orientation tour, I literally saw the handwriting on the wall," says Mr. Hack. "A sign titled 'Safe Sex' told me where to get condoms on campus, and another sign suggested 100 ways to make love without having sex, like 'take a nap together' and 'take a steamy shower together.'"
All incoming freshmen were sent a welcome packet, which included a special edition of the Yale Daily News. One article mapped out Yale students' favorite spots for having sex, including the library. "Fornicating undergraduates can also make use of the public restrooms," the article suggests.
Wanting the education (or at least the educational status) of a Yale degree, but not wishing to put himself in a compromising environment, Mr. Hack and the other Orthodox students began lobbying Yale officials to let them live off campus. After all, his family lives in New Haven (the town where Yale is located), and until two years ago, Yale exempted New Haven residents from having to live in the dorms.
"We're not trying to impose our moral standards on our classmates," says Mr. Hack, who has taken a liking to talking with the media (he now wears a pager to help him field calls from reporters). "We're just asking that Yale give us permission to live off campus."
Paul Clewell, 22, a junior English major, is a devout Christian. He's watched the Yale 5 take on a major Ivy League institution, and it's made him and other Christians on campus think, he says.
"We as Christians have mixed feelings about the issue of morality on campus," says the bright, blond midwesterner. "Most of us just make do; we're not comfortable, by any means, with the co-ed bathrooms and showers, or the all-night visitation policies, but then again, we're called to be salt and light in the world. That can best be done in places where salt and light are needed."
Mr. Clewell's lifestyle gives credence to what by his own admission sounds, at first, like rationalization. He spends his time studying and helping bring chess to inner-city schools. He knows the kitchen help at the Stiles dorm cafeteria by first name, and when he meets a dean in the quad, the dean greets him by name and smiles.
"The thing is, Yale's not as bad as the Yale 5 are making it sound," he says. "Don't get me wrong, it's bad enough. But the co-ed bathrooms, for example, are more co-ed in name than in practice. For all the talk, most people just don't want to take showers or use the bathroom with people of the opposite sex.
"You can avoid bad situations," he explains. "You can request a single-sex floor on a dorm, and you'll probably get it. That might not be Yale policy, but it's Yale practice. And if there are women in the bathroom on your floor, you just go down a floor. You just don't put yourself in compromising situations."
Mr. Clewell's room is a good picture of life in the Ivy Leagues (at least for the studious). The fairly spartan (and certainly ugly) Ezra Stiles dormitory has rooms of about 10 feet by 15 feet, with just enough room for a bed and a desk. Mr. Clewell's walls have the requisite Trekkie mementos, and his desk is piled with Shakespeare scripts (for a course he's taking this semester) and Christian, classical, and country CDs. His bed is made, and his laundry is out of sight. There are fliers for various events sponsored by the small but active evangelical Christian community at Yale; most of the Christian groups on campus have agreed that maybe the Yale 5 are making a valid point.
David Mahan, who leads the Campus Crusade for Christ chapter at Yale, admits that the Jewish students have provided something of a wake-up call. "It's making a lot of the students think about what kinds of lines they should have drawn," says Mr. Mahan. "Over the years, a lot of them have come to me and expressed concerns or pain over seeing their values trivialized. A lot of women have come to me and said they weren't comfortable about sharing bathrooms."
So far, the primary public response of Christians has been a declaration by Yale Campus Ministries (an umbrella group) supporting the Yale 5's appeal. But privately, Mr. Mahan admits, students are asking themselves why Christians didn't take a stand before now.
The good news is that at one college, they have. Two years ago, incoming freshman Douglas Rader asked the University of Nebraska at Kearney to allow him to live in the Christian Student Fellowship, a Christian dorm across the street from the campus. His request was denied, and UNK gave the same reasons Yale has given: Dorm life is an important part of the college "experience" and imparts such virtues as tolerance and understanding. Doug saw the well-documented binge drinking, the parties, the 24-hour visitation policies, the vending machines with condoms.
"I just didn't want to live like that," Mr. Rader said. "I had plenty of contact with other students, in class and in basketball practice and all, but I wanted to be able to retreat at night into a safe environment. When it looked like we would have to go to court over it, I wasn't really worried. I knew God was in control."
Doug, a three-sport standout athlete at Trumbull (Neb.) High School and co-salutatorian of his class, had picked UNK for two reasons: He wanted to play college basketball, and he wanted to major in agribusiness. After UNK refused to budge, Doug's dad, Michael Rader, contacted a Christian attorney. The conflict eventually made its way into federal court.
"The UNK administration truly didn't understand how living in the dorms would burden a student's right to exercise his faith," said Jefferson Downing, the Lincoln, Neb., attorney who handed the case. "After all, they reasoned, a student could still read his Bible, pray, and talk about religion as much as he wanted to. What the university refused to recognize was the potentially detrimental peer influence a devout Christian would be subjected to."
And the Rader family was devout, Mr. Downing eventually showed the court. Doug grew up helping his father and grandfather farm corn (and breed hybrid strains). The family gathered every morning at 7 a.m. for devotions and Scripture reading. After winning a temporary injunction that allowed Doug to move into the Christian Student Fellowship (CSF), Mr. Downing began preparing his case. The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, a cooperative legal effort founded by Larry Burkett, James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, and others, kicked in $5,000 to fund the effort.
What worked, Mr. Downing explains, is the tactic of using the world's own weapons against it. One example is a study cited by UNK administrators showing that grades go up when students live on campus.
But the same study, titled "How College Affects Students," by Ernest T. Pascarella of the University of Illinois and Patrick T. Terenzini of Penn State, also says that "living in a residence hall or private room (on campus) appears to increase the likelihood that a student, by the senior year, will express no religious preference.... Living at home decreases the likelihood of any sort of shift toward no religious preference...."
That's just proof, Mr. Downing says, of the scriptural principle that bad company corrupts good morals.
And because the university was preaching tolerance, Mr. Downing worked to demonstrate intolerant attitudes held by administrators. Indeed, the federal judge came down sharply on administrators, such as vice-chancellor Barbara Hancock Snyder and assistant director of resident life Douglas R. Wermedal. Their testimony "manifested a degree of antipathy toward members of CSF," according to the judge, who also chided the school for suggesting that students with strong religious convictions should go elsewhere.
"Should we all go off and live in monasteries?" Mr. Downing asked. "No, of course not. Doug wanted to live literally 50 feet from campus; he just wanted a retreat."
What's more, Mr. Downing was able to show that the residency rule was excepted for more than a third of incoming freshmen, on the grounds of age (if they were over 19) or of being married, as well as for migraine headaches, stress, and pregnancy. The administration simply didn't want to make an exception for a devout Christian, the judge ruled after a two-day trial.
Doug has since transferred to Mid-America Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas (Doug was cut from the UNK basketball team, and Mid-America offered to let him play; the school also has a good agribusiness program). But he says he doesn't regret the fight; because of his efforts, freshmen have since been allowed to move into the Christian Student Fellowship.
The first battle over secularization at Yale came in 1722, when the rector of Yale, Timothy Cutler, switched from the Presbyterian church to the Anglican church. James Fitch, who donated some of the first land to Yale, was outraged, and he wrote a poem about Yale's spiritual decline, which was published by Benjamin Franklin on the front page of The New England Courant.
Visitors to Yale University now are often struck by the towering, gloomy, neo-Gothic architecture. G.K. Chesterton once pointed out that within a Christian context, Gothic architecture can be glorious.But all vestiges of God (or at least a God of consequence) have long since been chased out of Yale .
Gothic without God is merely oppressive; so is the spiritual atmosphere at Yale. Religious arguments aren't going to work with Yale administrators; it will likely take tactics such as those employed by Jefferson Downing. And the Yale 5 seem to understand that. They're proud to have the support of the nation's leading Jewish secularist, Alan Dershowitz (a Yale law graduate).
For now, the students are keeping up the media blitz while seeking a settlement with the university. Four of the students (Mr. Hack included) have paid the nearly $7,000 dorm fee, though they have never even seen the inside of their dorm rooms. (That Yale is comfortable with this gives lie to the school's contention that the issue is "the Yale experience," not money.) One of the Yale 5, a young woman, went as far as getting legally married to win an exemption. She and her husband, to whom she was already engaged, don't consider themselves married yet. The civil ceremony was just to please Yale, and they'll wait until a rabbi marries them this summer before they'll live together.
Meanwhile, Christians at Yale are left with the feeling that someone else carried the ball for them."Maybe part of it is courage," Paul Clewell admits. "Yale is hard ground for Christians."
Still, for Mr. Clewell and others, it goes back to a point Mr. Hack makes repeatedly: "We're not trying to impose our moral standards on our classmates; we're just asking that Yale give us permission to live off campus."
That's an entirely different mission than the one given to Christians, Mr. Clewell points out."It's a central difference between Christianity and Judaism," he says. "Judaism sees a law, and builds rules around it.... For us, it's not a question of laws, it's a question of the heart. And we are trying to change our classmates; but we're trying to win them to Christ, not trying to make them act like Christians."