Published Humanitas, Volume IX, No. 1, 1996

It was recently reported that a number of colleges, including Emory, Kenyon and the University of Rochester, were encouraging some of their students to experience the conditions of homelessness by sleeping outside on gratings or in cartons. Presumably the physical discomfort of this experience provides students with an awareness of the plight of the so-called homeless.

Since most of these students returned to warm dormitory rooms, three square meals and hot showers, it is difficult to assess the level of verisimilitude. As one might guess the students involved in this experience have discovered a new understanding and are actively lobbying for homeless shelters. This discovery resembles a form of secular antinomianism; it also resembles a current manifestation of radical chic, an effort at consciousness raising for privileged students. As one student noted after an evening under the stars, “When I took a shower the next morning, I felt ashamed thinking of all the advantages I have.”

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