TRUE FACT: Following Tennessee’s stunning 52-49 gridiron victory over Alabama last Saturday, fans of the winning team tore down the goalposts and threw one of them into the Tennessee River.
Although this incident might raise a few bemused eyebrows, it doesn’t come close to delivering the wallop of surprise provided by two notorious campus celebrations of the 1970s.
In 1970, Paul Samuelson became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Economics. The award was announced while his colleagues in the MIT Economics Department were eating lunch in the faculty dining room. Upon hearing the news, these professors proceeded to riot — upending tables, engaging in a food fight that lasted over an hour, and building a huge bonfire with chairs and drapes that triggered the building’s sprinkler system.
Campus police arrested 14 professors for vandalism, with 3 of those individuals serving 6 months in jail for assaulting (biting) the officers who were attempting to subdue them.
In the wake of the disturbance, MIT instituted a no-alcohol policy in the faculty dining room that is still in force, 52 years later.
In a 2004 interview, Samuelson expressed regret that his departmental colleagues had celebrated his achievement in such a destructive fashion: “I mean, these folks had PhDs from some of the most prestigious institutions on the planet. I just don’t get it. You can’t go around biting people.”
A mere five years after the MIT incident, an even more shocking event took place at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.
On September 14, 1975, Elizabeth Ann Seton became the first American-born individual to be canonized by the Catholic Church. Seton had founded a congregation of Catholic nuns — the Sisters of Charity — in 1809.
Approximately 30 members of the Sisters of Charity were sitting in an Advanced Theology class on the Seton Hall campus when Seton’s sainthood was announced by the instructor. According to one witness, “the sisters went absolutely nuts, whooping like a pack of wild coyotes on crystal meth.”
The women burst out of the classroom and ran onto the campus quadrangle, overturning trash barrels and lassoing students with their oversized rosaries. They did somersaults, cartwheels, and backflips. Several of them engaged in what is known as “nun-splatting,” in which a sister runs full speed into the wall of a building, and then collapses in a throbbing, pulsating heap. During the chaos, three gardeners on the school’s facilities staff were temporarily taken hostage and tickled with pigeon feathers until they became incontinent.
Afterward, none of the nuns could recall doing any of these things. Nadine Werb, Professor of Nun Psychology at Georgetown University, notes that displays of such frenzied behavior are not uncommon in religious communities. According to Werb, “the typical female member of a Catholic religious order is a tightly wound bundle of repressed libidinal energy — enough energy to power a Toyota Corolla for a full day at 65 miles per hour. Every once in a while, some of that energy is unleashed, and all hell breaks loose.”