Suzi At Yale

Mark Oppenheimer writes about the original American campus sex scandal starring a Jewess named Suzi who gave a ton of blowjobs at age 14:

News that Yale boys had been getting blowjobs from a townie—a freshman townie—was bad news indeed. It could have been worse: She could have been an Italian or Irish girl from New Haven proper, which would have been a ferocious species of kindling for the local anti-Yale element. Better, for local amity, that it was a middle-class Jewish girl from the suburbs. The respectable suburban Jews weren’t likely to riot. Still, this was the kind of thing that Yale might want to cover up. The Yale Daily News insinuated as much in an editorial of Jan. 28, the same day the students’ court appearance appeared on page 1. “We are all too aware,” read the editorial, “that the principal concern of the deans and everyone involved in the investigation of the incident was to protect the careers and reputations of students who had, by their complete lack of judgment as shown by their actions, forfeited their right to any such consideration.

“Nevertheless,” continued the editorial, mercilessly, “no successful relationship can be maintained between Yale and the city of New Haven if the chief of New Haven police must be informed of Yale’s ‘hidden scandal’ by an out-of-town newspaper of more than dubious journalistic reputation.”

I have not been able to track down the specifics of this charge—the “out of town newspaper” that first brought the story to the city attorney’s attention, nor the evidence that this is how the city learned about what happened. But this charge, along with the evidence that Yale knew what was happening before Jan. 15, suggests that Yale would have preferred to resolve the matter internally. It was not a paramount concern that the men who had received oral sex from an adolescent be prosecuted or even shamed. On this matter, it was left to their fellow students, including those on the newspaper, to be the university’s conscience.

Of the men I located, Campbell is the one I’d most like to be friends with, I think. Like Frank, he went to architecture school, but his interest is urban planning, which he has taught and written a book about. He’s spent his life trying to improve neighborhoods and revitalize cities, in part by getting cars out of people’s way. His first job in architecture was during the semester he was suspended from Yale, before he was readmitted.

“This was a young girl who was going around campus giving blowjobs,” Campbell said. “Nobody knew anything about her. The rumor was she visited 800 guys. I am sure that was off by a factor of 20 or something. … The word was, she was going to somebody’s room in one of the colleges. So I went over there, stupidly, in the middle of the afternoon. It sounded like a great idea. She started to take my pants down, and she had her underwear on, and I decided it wasn’t a good idea. I don’t think I ever touched her.”

Campbell said that they had a conversation and that he suggested she get some help. “It was evident to me as soon as I met her that she was a little confused. And she was young.” Some time later, she called him on the telephone in his room. “She wanted to chat,” he remembered.

When he heard that men were being pulled before the administration, Campbell went to talk with William Sloane Coffin Jr., the university chaplain. He told Coffin that he was thinking he ought to turn himself in. “I said, ‘This is what I’m thinking about doing.’ He heartily agreed, said that made sense.” He found a campus cop he knew and told the cop that he needed to talk to a dean about what was going on. “The dean wanted me to implicate others, and I didn’t really know anybody. I had a roommate involved. I didn’t name my roommate.”

“It wasn’t fun,” Campbell said, summing up. “But worse than that was having the Harvard side of the stadium singing, ‘If You Knew Susie.’ ”

…Gambrill, a retired lawyer and Episcopal priest, lives in Maine with his second wife. He speaks with the soft, attuned cadences of a pastor. He never met Suzi. But, as he tells it, she changed his life.

“Two of them were my roommates,” Gambrill told me. “I lost two roommates out of that deal.” One of them was Jake Blaisdell, the bitchin’ Californian who tore out of town in his VW bus, never to return. The other was the man I’ve called Campbell, the urban planner. It surprised me, although perhaps it shouldn’t have, that Gambrill, the roommate, the bystander, had the most vivid memories of all.

“I didn’t get involved in it,” Gambrill said. “I am very thankful I didn’t. I think what sticks in my mind is we all knew it was coming. I remember quiet conversations on the phone with this poor Suzi. And they couldn’t wait to have this happen.”

When it was over, Gambrill and other men who had stayed away would make fun of the men who had been with Suzi. But for Gambrill, anyway, it wasn’t funny, not really.

“It’s one of the things I feel worst about,” he said. “It changed my life, in a way. I know in my heart that if I had told the two guys I roomed with that this was a bad thing, they probably wouldn’t have done it. I always felt bad I didn’t try to tell them. I felt I failed them. Nobody I know said anything about it beforehand, but afterward, we sort of ganged up on them. And afterward she went to her father, and all hell broke loose.”

Gambrill remembers a terrifying week on campus, arrests coming every couple of days.

“That was very ugly, them sweating, waiting to see what would happen to them,” he said. “For a lot of us, it really consumed us. … Some double-digit number were involved in this thing, went out in the car with this girl and got their fellatio, for lack of a grosser word. This was over the course of two or three weeks or something. And it was a source of merriment at first, and ‘Isn’t this amazing this could happen?’ and ‘Wow, what a lucky break’ to all of a sudden mockery and remorse.

“It was a bad time, a bad time. The worst part of my life. I wasn’t really affected. But these poor guys had to go home. They were children, 18 or 19 years old. They didn’t know what they were doing. And a 19-year-old now knows a shitload more than a 19-year-old in 1959.”

Gambrill seemed certain that he was no better than his friends. Just lucky, that’s all. “I think it was offered to me,” he said, “but I was sort of naïve—a moralistic child, I suppose. Didn’t appeal to me at all. I’m very glad I didn’t do it. It wasn’t any credit to me. Just that I was scared of my own shadow.”

As Gambrill remembers it, Jake was too upbeat a guy to spend much time second-guessing his actions—“Everything was ‘cherry’ or ‘bitchin’’ if it was good. He said that. He was not an introspective person.” Campbell, on the other hand, “was haunted afterward.” He remembers sitting in their rooming suite, in Davenport College, while Campbell waited for his father to arrive, before the court appearance. “I remember his father strutting up the path to the room, past the window … and their shaking hands in a very somber way. He had been awake the whole night before, and he had said to me, ‘Can you lend me some money so I can help pay for my father’s trip?’ I didn’t have any money.”

Gambrill had entered college planning to be a lawyer, but the chaplain Coffin’s Sunday sermons in Battell Chapel spoke to him, and they got him thinking about ministry. And the Suzi episode, his failure to stop his friends from going through with it, pushed him in that direction, too. “This incident made me feel I was more connected with other people than I had acted on,” he said, “and maybe the way to go was to be a priest. So, I became an Episcopal priest and served in churches for 20 years.”

…Most of the people I have told about Suzi are sure that she was “seriously unbalanced,” to borrow the words that dripped from the pen of Carlos Stoddard, President Griswold’s aide. And maybe she is, or was; it is important to remember that she was only 14, and the men involved were only slightly, if significantly, older, and still in school. All we can know is that she is a secure, unrepentant woman, in a longer, more stable marriage, as far as I can tell, than any of the men I talked to who were arrested for being with her. Insofar as she thinks about her mental state, she judges herself to be well.

“I’m kind of ‘be here now,’ ” Suzi said to me, just before I got in my rental car and drove off. “You can say, ‘Yes, I’m happy I did that.’ Or, ‘I’m happy I went somewhere.’ Or, ‘I’m happy I met someone.’ But it’s a characteristic of mine—I’m here, it’s a beautiful day, let’s enjoy.”

About Luke Ford

I’ve written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).

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