As the future members of the class of 2012 descend on campus this week, they will have endless concerns — how to locate Commons, which classes to attend, where to find the most crowded Bulldog Days party. But, despite worry expressed by students and administrators throughout the week, the now-infamous art project of Aliza Shvarts ’08 is not one of them.
Outside Commons on Monday evening, many prospective students and their parents said they were aware of Shvarts’ senior art project, which has grabbed national headlines and proliferated over the Internet during the past week. But while most of the 20 students and parents interviewed expressed disgust with the project — which Shvarts claims included nine months of repeated artificial inseminations followed by self-induced miscarriages — all said, perhaps unexpectedly, that it had not changed their impressions of the University or affected their matriculation decisions.
“I haven’t made any connections between a student’s view of what is okay and what the University believes in,” said Daniel Ribas of Tujunga, Calif. Still, Ribas said he is still trying to figure out how to approach the project: “I know that art shouldn’t really have boundaries, but there’s definitely a line that shouldn’t be crossed.”
Although some students demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the controversy, most of those interviewed said they had only a hazy idea of what had occurred — unsurprising, since the details of the story are still the subject of debate between Shvarts and the University.
Shvarts has so far stood by her project as described earlier last week in a news release. The University, on the other hand, has claimed Shvarts had privately denied actually committing the acts in question and dismissed it as a hoax that amounted to nothing more than “performance art.”
Over the weekend, the University intensified its criticism of the project and said it has disciplined two faculty members for their role in approving it. That the University has taken steps to address the controversy was reassuring to Hoddy Mahon, mother of Maria Mahon of Basking Ridge, N.J.
“The University took action, which says something,” said Mahon, who had not previously heard about the story. “You can’t catch all the crazy people who are coming here.”
Some said they were heartened to hear that academic controversy is alive and well at Yale.
“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” said Marina Mainescu, from Hillsdale, N.J., adding that she is “extremely liberal.”
“I think I would like to be among people who are interesting, even if it’s to an extreme extent,” she continued.
And some prospective students went even further, embracing Shvarts’ project.
Rachel Kauder, for example, said she considers it “pretty small” of Yale to be considering shutting down Shvarts’ exhibit. The controversy the project has generated is the point — and the beauty — of art, she said.
Although many of the parents interviewed at Yale yesterday did not condemn Shvarts’ project, some back at home may be less than thrilled.
Although Lawrence Lim of Milwaukee, Wis. said news of the project will not affect his decision to attend Yale, his parents might not feel the same way.
“They would think it’s appalling,” he said
In fact, Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said he could not anticipate how the incident may affect the attitudes toward Yale held by admitted students, who must notify the University of their matriculation decisions by May 1.
The incident, he said, has not generated much buzz at the admissions office.
“So far I have not received any inquiries from admitted students or their parents,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I simply do not know the extent to which they may be aware of the project or may be affected by it going forward.”
The timing of the uproar over Shvarts’ art project calls to mind Bulldog Days 2006, which took place shortly after The New York Times Magazine sparked controversy with an article about the admission of former Taliban diplomat Rahmatullah Hashemi.
A Yale official said last week that the Shvarts incident has drawn more press inquiries to the University than any event since the Hashemi episode.
Brenzel declined to comment on a historical parallel between the Hashemi and Shvarts controversies but noted that the Hashemi incident did not appear to affect that year’s matriculation decisions.
“All we can report is that none of the students who returned the card declining Yale’s offer gave the Hashemi matter as a reason,” he wrote.
While awareness of the Shvarts art project seems high among students and parents, virtually none of those interviewed said they had heard about Akash Maharaj, who was removed from the University last summer and arrested last September for forging his application to Yale and stealing financial-aid money.
When the News published an article unveiling Maharaj’s tale two weeks ago, the national media swooped on the story and it appeared in dozens of outlets, including The New York Times and the Hartford Courant.
According to future member of the class of 2012 Blake Zwerling of Portland, Ore. — one of the few who had seen the story — Maharaj deserves credit for being able to beat an admissions system that has spun out of control.
“I think it might actually be a good thing,” Zwerling said. “It might make people take themselves a little less seriously.”
Administrators are standing by their decision to prevent Shvarts’s project from being displayed alongside the other senior art projects today, as she did not deny that she had self-inseminated and miscarried. But it is still uncertain whether her installation will ever be displayed at the University.