After looking over graduate programs, and having more and less success than I expected, I went out for Indian food with my parents. While I was out, I brought up Evergreen State University’s policies, which are quite liberal; there are no grades or particular programs. Laughing, my father, a psychiatrist, starts to tell a story:
Back when we lived in Washington state, back when I was just a baby, my father worked weekends for extra money at a nearby liberal arts university where he worked at the university health center as a staff psychiatrist, and was there to admit a young woman when her friends brought her in. “Now, she was a typical student there,” he said, which I took this to mean a wealthy, idealistic child of radicals, but I haven’t visited the school, so I can’t say. Anyway, this girl was nuts. Not in an easily classifiable way, he clarified, but presenting some non-syndromal symptom arrangement. Not that it matters to the story, really, but I need to convey to you that she had bats in the belfry in a major way.
Prior to her admission to the center, her friends had sought counsel with one of the more charismatic professors, who had gained a throng of groupies. Understand that psychiatry has long been the counter culture’s straw man, just consider One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is admittedly a great movie, but sums up the feeling of the era about mental health professionals scathingly. As popular professor at a very liberal university, he counseled her friends not to allow a psychiatrist to meddle with her brain, so instead, they rented out a cabin in the woods and kept her there, essentially kidnapping her.
Predictably, the rented cabin didn’t cure her, so they eventually caved and brought her into the health services building, where they were all terrified of my academic, mild mannered father, who was only a few years older than they were. Following procedure, he asked her some basic questions upon intake to determine her level of awareness, in this case while in the presence of her friends. “What is your name? Do you know where you are? What day is it?” She couldn’t manage anything coherent until he asked her “Do you know who I am?” to which she replied with disdain (and my father enjoyed delivering this line), “You’re the guy in the polyester sweater.”