Some things learned in school will inform major life choices that students make during college. Take shirtlessness, for example.
Jacob Authier, a junior at Chapman University, in Southern California, was home-schooled, so he never had to wear a shirt to class. "I have plenty of shirts I like," the film major said. "I just don’t like to wear them all the time.”
Nevertheless, Authier picked an outfit, shirt included, for his first day at Chapman. But over the summer after his freshman year, he spent a lot of time outside in his hometown of Coalinga, California, and decided that he didn’t feel like wearing a shirt to class. Or almost anywhere, really. Authier put it most eloquently: "I just stopped wearing a shirt."
He said it seemed like nobody really paid much attention for a while, but then last spring Regina Aletto, now a sophomore at Chapman, started a shrine of a Facebook.com group: the “Club Dedicated to the Fellow Without a Shirt.” The 510 Chapman students who have joined the group, like Sasquatch hunters, post comments and share sightings.
Aletto said she first spotted Authier, who also wears shades and sports a short, two-pronged beard, walking around campus donning a black cloak with no shirt beneath. "He was just walking forward, and looking straight ahead," said Aletto, who is studying advertising. "I was like, 'This guy is too good.’”
The online club dedicated to the “shirtless guy,” as he is known on campus, quickly became the second largest Chapman Facebook group, second only to the “George Bush is Not My Homeboy” club, which boasts 578 members.
Authier said he’s amused by all the attention he gets just for being shirtless -- between an exam and term project, three television news crews stalked him around campus Monday following a profile in the Los Angeles Times -- and he clearly checks in on the Facebook group now and again. Aletto, said one woman posted a comment that said “yesterday shirtless guy wore a vest, and I told him that’s not a full outfit, it’s an accessory,” Aletto recalled. The next day, Authier wore a vest with a sign on it proclaiming his disregard for the fact that his vest is only an accessory.
The sign is not the only sort of body display on Authier. He’ll often paint his nipples black, or, on special occasions, some more festive color, like green for St. Patrick’s Day. He said he’s considering candy cane swirl nipples for Christmas this year. For Valentine’s Day, Authier’s brother Joe, a sophomore at Chapman, used a pocket knife to carve a heart – not the cartoon kind, but one with veins and ventricles – into Authier’s chest, and wings on his back. Authier said the wing markings have faded, but the heart “was cut a little too deep,” and the scars are still there.
The body art prompted administrators to give Authier a psychological evaluation. "They talked to him and found out he’s OK,” said Mary Pall, a Chapman spokeswoman. "He’s just a very creative individual."
And he found a slightly more profitable way to share his creativity. When one of Authier’s friends decided to run for student government, Authier offered up his bod as a billboard. Since then, he’s rented chest space for $1 a day. “Usually it’s people who want to say ‘happy birthday,’ or advertise a club event.
While faculty members haven’t made much of a fuss, some do prefer that Authier come to class fully clothed, and Authier politely accommodates such requests. Paul McCudden, an adjunct screen writing professor, said that he “may be an old fuddy duddy, but it seems disrespectful” for students to attend class topless. McCudden said he now sees Authier putting a shirt on as he comes into class. “He’s a very thoughtful, intelligent college kid,” McCudden said. “He needs to work on completing assignments and showing up to classes, but he seems perfectly normal. I guess old farts like me just prefer to see students clothed.”
McCudden, like some other professors, according to Authier, isn’t a big fan of the indoor sunglasses. Authier said that his “eyes and bright light just don’t agree,” and that the shades are prescription. Still, he said, he complies when asked to remove them. Rabbi Mark Miller, who has Authier in Interpreting Hebrew Scripture, doesn’t like the sunglasses, but said “he forgot all about” the bare chest after a few minutes. “On a campus like Chapman’s, very much conformist in terms of dress … it’s nice if somebody offers a little harmless self expression,” Rabbi Miller said. “I did it myself with hair back in the 60s. Things were a lot more outlandish. This is the time to do that, before he goes out into the film industry.”
Authier has thought about the future a bit. “Maybe as soon as I graduate I’ll start wearing shirts so I can be one of those trivia factoids: which movie director was once known as the ‘shirtless guy,’” Authier said. He stopped a moment and considered it. “I love pants. I’ve tried wearing shirts, and they don’t suit me. So I’ll probably be shirtless for the rest of my life.”
Added McCudden, “I keep asking him, ‘What happens when winter rolls around?’ He just chuckles.”