Rules to live by
A few weeks ago, I found a box of college memorabilia hidden in a closet under the stairs. I felt like Pandora as I brought those relics into the light of day, for they loosed within me laughter, incredulity and amazement.
At the heart of these feelings was my mid-1960s Radford College handbook, in pristine condition, its red cardboard cover stamped with silver letters. It might as well have been a manuscript from the Dark Ages for all it had in common with today"s customs, traditions and values.
The handbook, only 84 pages long, regulated every aspect of a "Radford lady"s" life, from academic to social. It put an emphasis on protecting reputation, both the young lady"s and the college"s.
As I read through the sections on social regulations and general information, I was simultaneously amused and amazed at the archaic rules. You couldn"t wear rollers (hair curlers) outside the dorm; you had to limit phone calls to 15 minutes; and you couldn"t make or receive calls after midnight. You couldn"t hang anything on your dorm walls and you couldn't hang your clothes in the window.
On campus, you couldn"t spend more than 15 minutes in the company of a young man whose name you had not listed on a yellow form and filed with the dorm hostess. You couldn"t date Radford town boys, stay out past curfew, visit a married couple with your boyfriend, and on and on.
One rule that affects me today is the one that prohibited walking on the grass; everyone had to "use the walks in going from building to building." To walk on the grass was like stealing fire from the gods. If caught, you might not be chained to a rock and have your liver pecked out, but you were sentenced to your dorm for an entire weekend.
I was caught walking on the grass once. I thought no one saw me; I was wrong.
Later that evening, a house council member summoned me to a meeting. After they confronted me with the details of my crime, there was little for me to do except confess and accept their punishment. To this day, I feel like I"m walking on a grave when I take to the grass, bypassing a good sidewalk. No one except a Radford lady from that era could empathize with this guilty feeling.
The rule that conjures up the most hilarious and disturbing images relates to a Radford lady"s attire. Never was she to be seen on campus in shorts or pants; provocative dress was restricted to the upper floors and rear halls of the dorms. When it was necessary to wear these clothes anywhere else on campus, she was required to cover herself from chin to mid-calf with the burqa of the 60s, the trench coat.
Every one owned at least one trench coat. Most were khaki; some were belted, some loose fitting. The more daring and stylish girls bought trench coats in colors like pale blue, pink, yellow and mint green. No matter the color, we wore trench coats on the harshest winter days and the hottest summer days.
The handbook was explicit, "Women students at no time wear shorts or slacks unless full-length, buttoned rain coats are worn."
I remember girls running around in trench coats, buttoned up to the neck, getting signatures to run for office, collecting money for a cause or chatting on the sidewalk. I sat in class in a trench coat buttoned up to my neck, taking notes feverishly, perspiration pouring down my face because the temperature outside was 80 degrees and 90 degrees inside.
I didn't look weird, for half the class would be dressed exactly like me. Underneath the tightly closed trench coats, we wore regulation gym shorts and shirts, required attire for our gym class. With no possible way to get across campus in time to dress for gym (we couldn't take a short cut across the grass), we were forced to wear this uniform to class in all seasons.
We may have chaffed at the trench coat rule, it may have seemed ridiculous, but we didn't challenge it. Not then, but the time for challenge was fast approaching. The Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of President Kennedy had already happened. Looming on the horizon was the controversial war in Vietnam.
The trench coat rule, an example of stifling rules on campuses and other organizations and establishments all over the country, was already on life-support in the mid-60s. It was only a matter of time.
The handbook is a relic of the times when the word "reputation" carried more weight in American society than the word it was replaced with -- "rights".
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