Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
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When the din between college classes subsided below, I heard a needed sound--steps ascending the immediate stairway to my remote area, the new personal counseling room. Slow, muted steps, yet seemingly sure.
Expectation quickened my pulse; here over a month I had faced only a few freshmen in this room--no student for days. Some faculty greeted me Mondays on their way to a committee room across the hall. This wasn't Monday--so?
The steps stopped. A male began conversing with a female below. I hoped against any turnabout.
According to some faculty and staff, the fellow could be in one of three categories:
Patricians, or Pats, some even VIP-Pats.
Plebeians, with many Plebes aspiring toward Pathood.
Offbeats, peaceniks; science fiction buffs.
The steps resumed upward. Good.
In the doorway, catching his breath, stood a medium-tall fellow, surely an upperclassman, one I hadn't noticed in the few classes and clubs visited so far to advertise my role.
While appraising the room, he said, "A student would have quite a serious problem to climb up here."
"Choose an easy chair," I said.
The room he assayed resembled an old-fashioned parlor midst the tops of old, tall pines, all looking centuries before our atomic age, miles from bustling Chicago.
"Fine paintings." He high-geared about for quick, close checks.
"They're by a sister who studied at the Chicago Art Institute. One I've used in psych classes to illustrate projection."
The freshmen up here were Plebes; this one I couldn't guess, yet.
Nodding affirmatively toward the bookcase and the table with tests spread out, the visitor reclined in a straight chair near the sample tests.
"Miss Jensen, I'm Mose, a junior wondering if you shouldn't be located on ground level or circulating much of the time in the Union, like the last counselor." Though solemn his face looked friendlier than many affecting boredom following my being introduced to classes.
"Mose, my annotated reading list is in the library. I am circulating through classes and group meetings; that's easier for an introvert than tracking wary students in the Union. I'm an introvert, a sociable introvert."
"Up here, though, I think things will continue to remain very quiet. On this campus it is in to have your own psychiatrist somewhere, but demeaning, out, to be seen seeking help from the campus counselor. The feeling is against your position, not you personally.
"See, on this end of Science anyone going above second knows he risks raising eyebrows; obviously he's headed either toward the science faculty conference room, which isn't likely, or to the campus counselor's nest.
"So, Miss Jensen for you the Union isn't the answer. You like it up here?"
"Yes, I enjoy the retreat look, but do abhor a vacuum."
"Do you have hobbies?"
"Walking. Listening to classical music or to jazz. Writing--have been gathering background material for an historical novel based on personal documents, 1879-1960."
"Several student leaders here write--especially poetry, play music--especially guitar, paint, especially abstract."
Had heard of some of the leaders; two freshman women separately decried the social strata here, the intimidating Pats.
"Miss Jensen please explain your counseling philosophy and what you hope to do on this campus."
"Here's a short pamphlet you might enjoy reading before we discuss the philosophy which is quasi-Carl Rogers, quasi-nondirective. Used the theory some in experimental teaching and did counseling, too. Take it and bring it back.
"My plans? I can refer students to area psychiatrists and for those wary of them, I'll be helpful--have had experience in dealing with serious problems. You know, students often take their problems to their teachers.
"And tests can break the ice in feeling acquainted. While wary of their results, I believe freely-chosen tests from that table can help spot valuable clues in discussion.
"Oh, yes, as a teacher I enjoyed speculating about issues in literature, religion, medicine, campus ethos, drama--am really a fringe psychologist."
"So, you're an introverted, fringe counselor. Here drama is big."
Ah, we heard ascending footsteps.
"Well, I'm on my way to lab." At the door, after looking below, Mose whispered. "It's a pacifist." He pointed his thumb negatively downward. "A peacenik.
"Miss Jensen the art is alive, the type you expect in a top museum; that's worth the climb. The room can be advertised as a gallery of semi-abstracts. Painting is very in. Sure, the gallery can be a start.
My new client, Olive, had asked perceptive questions in one of the classes. She relaxed in the easy chair near my desk.
"Out of breath?"
"No. Our marches for peace keep me in shape. I'm here to take your tests before checking further on Peace Corps possibilities."
"Good. I'll explain the tests on the table for you to choose from."
So, a live peacenik; she looked and acted normal plus--no noodle, no real offbeat.
Another day, after our discussion of the tests, Ollie said, "I've never heard results discussed, just knew scores. This has been helpful and a lot of fun. I think you are too wary of I.Q. scores, though.
"Miss Jensen I hear you once taught on a Negro campus. Two of our marchers spent the summer working toward integration in the South."
"Oh, I hope they stop by soon. Psychologists know further integration is overdue, but differ on the most effective approach."
"Our group here stresses only peace; we're against bombs, against a war that should not be, against a draft for that. Will you join our next march here in town Saturday morning?"
"For me marching is out. Will you keep me posted on what happens outside and in your own mind. I'll really appreciate that." The dreamers might need some cushion for their disappointment--what?
"We, many of us, will keep you posted."
Two art majors, up to see the new semi-abstract gallery, also brought an invitation for me to meet with a small group of students in the Union Tuesday evening at seven.
Before the artists left, several peaceniks came to take tests and to discuss their movement.
Soon niks, giving substantial evidence of my earning the salary, prompted me to use the conference room for testing, my office for discussion. Those who planned to stop a war didn't worry about a seeing a counselor branded as demeaning. They saw me as one of them. Why? Did my teaching on a Negro campus make them assume I was a social activist--not so.
In the quiet of a waning Tuesday afternoon, solemn Mose sat down on the same, straight chair. He had passed niks taking tests across the hall.
"Miss Jensen the peace people, the quantity, are compounding your problem. Some of them, like Ollie, are more than okay, but as a group they are considered way out--zealots on the lunatic fringe. They add to the general hesitation. Offsetting is needed now, right away. Have you heard of the Patricians here, the Pats?"
"Yes, what many Plebes want to be."
"After Pats, especially VIPs, are seen coming here, students generally will come, too. The Pats can build a bridge, or ladder, up to this room. This evening in the Union you'll be meeting several Pats, mostly Pats."
"Are you a Pat?"
"No. My roommate is and I often eat with some of them. Am a fringe Pat--where I want to stay.
"Miss J., to counteract the nik invasion, I suggest you visit immediately classes taught by professors with a strong Pat following, like Miss Very or Homer Deft. They are doing the bulk of the counseling and will think of ways to boost your image through generosity and for self-protection--they're too busy."
"Deft, Homer Deft. He's on my list for his dry wit. The humor test has jokes and cartoons, stupid ones in my estimation. I'd like him to take and assess the thing."
"Visit Deft's class tomorrow."
"Then, I should call him right now." On the phone, a cordial Deft said someone right away would bring a book, course outline, and tomorrow's topic.
"The peace nuts," Mose explained, "are mission-minded, looking mainly for converts, not personal help, maybe career help from the tests."
I joined Mose, took a chair near his chosen one. "The peace kids now have me reading past headlines. Have been hoping psychologists can turn the world around. What would happen, say, if Kruschev and Kennedy took Rogers' suggestion to do role playing, each speaking for the other, thus comprehending each other. Am quite addicted to reading psychology and for diversion some fiction--Hemingway, Cary, Stein, some dramatists. Now, I am reading newspapers."
"Miss J., many students here are on a par with Hemingway--deep depression. Your help is needed to stop an ominous, scary undercurrent."
"I know, but can't word just why. Ten years ago students were called apathetic. Here many, most do things. And, to me, the marchers are dedicated without an over-focus. They are not one-track, messianic, overly self-righteous and they do give convincing points. They have me feeling ambivalent."
"Why? How? Lab can wait."
"Why ambivalent? Almost too close to sort. On one side--Hungarian disaster, unstable countries, Berlin Wall, Siberia and the recent testing.
"Still, I'm against drafting the young for wars either engineered or not seriously prevented by adults willing to break old treaties, long sanctioning the McCarthy inquisition, not pushing for a democracy worth copying."
"What do you think of the miniskirt?" His eyes twinkled.
"Cold in the winter. Brrr. May help free lock-step women from designers. Presently for, I guess."
Mose led a discussion of the campus--liberal sex and religion, fairly good food service, unleavened boredom, campus politics and one individualist into real politics--quite likely a socialist.
I started to ask about the ominous undercurrent, but Mose suddenly was on his way. In the doorway he said, "I read the article on counseling. The draft does add to the general boredom, the depression, the futility. Yes, it's okay for peace kids to be coming here; I just wish more Pats had arrived first. You need them and they need you."
"Will I see you this evening?"
"No. And don't forget--after Homer Deft, visit Miss Very."
During our Union meeting, a sophisticated, judgmental bunch did search my psyche for a silver lining and, I felt, found me wanting. Were not our affinities stronger than the outward alliance with the marchers?
The erudite, yet often diffident Deft in his class gave me a high-visibility introduction, asked for my opinion during the discussion, insisted I return next meeting with specific opinions and, after class, eagerly agreed to take the unfunny humor test Saturday morning.
Saturday I wisely suggested we do the test orally with Deft free to add any reasons for choosing jokes or cartoons. His comic asides fanned some from me. A hilarious morning.
He concluded, "I don't think most of the jokes are funny either. Choices were hard to make. I did find taking the test delightful and am impressed, really impressed. The wheel was at first rough hewn. And, we do live with vague levels of humor. This bold start is gratifying."
After a general discussion of the campus, Deft said, "The morale here is low, bad. My greatest concern, my big regret, is that students are so mean to each other. I keep wondering why."
Monday six of Deft's admirers, including VIPs, came to take the humor test, and only the humor test.
Lo, unintentionally the Pats left a ladder on which others soon arrived. My role, my office no longer seemed tainted.
Later I showed Professor Deft a paragraph in a letter from the artist sister on an Arizona campus. "Most of the really superior students here are highly competitive and mean toward each other; perhaps the same thing that supplies the incentive supplies the less admirable trait."
"Miss Jensen, having meanness national makes it no better. The meanness, ugliness worries me."
When a professor requested I collar a bright, failing science student, I invited Leon to take tests and to tell me why he was addicted to reading science fiction.
He agreed to take the tests after I listened to him--them. A verbal pact.
Leo brought an oratorical, political friend, the possible socialist, to help him with an explanation lasting two hours--including my questions.
In science fiction one rethinks issues in religion, morals, sex, peace, politics. It takes you into a quasi-frontier, lifts you out of your own world. Yes, there's an overlap with books recommended by teachers, Brave New World, Let Your Mind Alone, Lord of the Flies.
They gave phrases for some of their authors: beautiful writing, stresses fantasy, glorifies the military, anti-Zionist, depicts dianetics, more. They were impressed by my note-taking.
The next day a man and woman brought me an unrequested stack of science fiction novels--horrors. Finally I chose one, Strangers in a Strange Land, Heinlein.
They asked me to join their club. I selected to sample their next meeting, starting Strangers.
During this meeting, through an open door I saw a Pat who had taken the humor test look in as though passing a zoo cage. Suddenly he paused, to check an incredible sight--the campus counselor in such an offbeat group.
I first reported my main thoughts about the buffs to Professor Deft, then to a newcomer in the counselor's nest--felt Mose, considering me now a survivor, sent a buddy to obtain fresh conversational fodder. I summarized my impressions.
--Their novels stress social issues. The peaceniks act; the buffs contemplate.
--To the club, members bring high-level questions and criticism, social and literary. No tests are needed for motivation in this member-led group.
--In Stranger in a Strange Land, the Martian finally concludes earthly humor must ease hurting. In the meeting I sampled, the buffs didn't try to hurt, to offend each other. No one was put down during free debate. Is their interest intensified by novel congeniality?
--Here are two practical conclusions: the mainstream courses should be enjoying the mental vigor of the buffs. Those who read mainly science fiction should quit paying high tuition to discuss social issues for no credit.
Decades later, I observe more mediators now than then, people like--bless them--Mose, Olive, Deft, Leon, others. Occasionally I'm an activist, briefly so, to help with momentum.