Thursday, July 28, 2016 | Subscribe

Review: ‘Sex and God at Yale’

It’s a dis­gusting, excellent work. Seldom do those two adjectives belong next to each other in a sentence, but it’s the best way to describe Nathan Harden’s new book “Sex and God at Yale.” It’s a curious com­bi­nation — a memoir mixed with a dev­as­tatingly thorough exposé of the ongoing moral decay at Yale. In 1951, National Review founder William F. Buckley wrote “God and Man at Yale,” a book about how Yale’s pro­fessors indoc­trinate students with lib­eralism. Sixty years later, Nathan Harden updates Buckley’s thesis, and demon­strates how the problem has grown much more troubling — and shocking.

For a sig­nificant portion of the book, Harden chronicles –– in vivid detail — the events that compose Yale’s infamous “Sex Week,” in which a student orga­ni­zation brings in speakers and hosts events to discuss nearly every aspect of human sex­uality. No topic is too shameful or bizarre. From sex toy demon­strations to lectures from S&M experts to porn viewings, it’s a com­pre­hensive venture. While not funded directly by the Yale admin­is­tration, the events take place in Yale classrooms. At every event, the speakers use Yale podiums to glorify mindless, casual sex and encourage students to gratify their every desire, no matter how unusual or depraved.

But Harden has more evidence than this one gross week to prove Yale’s lack of moral purpose. He weaves the issue through nearly every aspect of campus culture. Anecdotes abound: lesbian porn shown in Spanish and other language classes, the campus women’s center cap­i­talizing polit­ically on an ill-advised fra­ternity prank through dis­graceful vic­tim­ization, and the administration’s creation of a website forum for students to publish essays about their sexual expe­riences. Beyond these specific instances, Harden dis­cusses larger issues, espe­cially in his chapter about Yale’s insidious hook-up culture. How, he asks, can Yale expect to produce the next gen­eration of top women leaders if the school encourages its female students to forget being asked out on a date and just enjoy sleeping with drunk men after parties? Without even having to say it, Harden shows how the sexual rev­o­lution has failed to empower women.

Throughout the book, Harden offers a welcome reprieve from the hor­rifying by describing his own expe­riences as a student at Yale. Determined to be a “Yalie” since third grade, Harden is rejected twice before finally gaining admission to the Ivy League school. He includes a won­derful section on meeting his wife and marrying her in a matter of weeks, and beau­tifully describes how this powerful love has shaped his life. He tries to find his Chakra in a drama class, and tells of his inep­titude, with a likable self-deprecating humor. It’s evident that Harden loves Yale, and his memoir explains how something he adored, when expe­rienced up-close, dis­ap­pointed. The tale of love lost adds to his cred­i­bility. He wasn’t a man ded­icated to exposing Yale’s darkest sides.

Much of the criticism sur­rounding Harden’s work com­plains he’s too much of an outsider to understand Yale: he’s married, so how can he comment on the hook-up culture when he hasn’t lived in it? But it took someone as com­pletely removed as Harden to see these events for what they are: morally bankrupt. Perhaps the culture has become so per­vasive that it takes an outsider— a kind of campus anthro­pologist— to be shocked.

Unfor­tu­nately, the tone of the book poses an occa­sional problem in com­mu­ni­cating its message. Sometimes the wit and cynicism doesn’t fit. One chapter tells the story of Aliza Shvarts, an art student whose senior art project medium was blood from “repeated self-induced mis­car­riages.” Yale disputes the story, claiming it was an attention-seeking hoax. But this is, at best, a case of a psy­cho­log­ically troubled young woman des­perate for attention, and at worst, an unspeakable affront on human dignity. This and several other chapters, including the chapter on the violence in porn, could have used more earnestness, more sorrow — and less snark. Sometimes the snark works, but it doesn’t work everywhere.

The final line of the book reads: “What’s hap­pening at Yale is coming to a uni­versity near you.” But it’s not coming to Hillsdale. Our college is not without its problems — human nature is the same here as it is at Yale, but Hillsdale students and faculty share an under­standing of absolute truth and the simple dif­ferences between good and evil. Nathan Harden’s Sex and God at Yale is a fas­ci­nating, com­pelling tes­tament to just how rare this has become.


  • Chris Pauley

    You are an amazing young lady Katie with a talent for writing. Keep up the won­derful work God has begun in you!

  • reader

    Per­ceptive review. Only one point — the thing with the Shvarts episode is she had the project approved (at first) which goes toward the author’s larger point.