Newspaper: The Evening Sentinel

Date: April 5, 1979

Title: Dickinson Students Probe Personal Effects of Nuclear Crisis

Author: Deb Cline, Associate Editor


Perhaps the most obvious reactions to Three Mile Islands were the jokes, stories and slogans about radiation and nuclear destruction.

They are ranging from harmless wit to sick jokes or black humor.

One such slogan, "Hell no, we won't glow," a nuclear variation on the anti-Vietnam slogan of the 1960's, is now being silk screened onto t-shirts at Dickinson College by students who view it as a way to relieve tension.

Lonna Malmsheimer, American Studies professor at the college, views it as part of the folklore building up around the nuclear accident. And she says such slogans and jokes are a normal reaction for people trying to cope with a crisis.

ACCORDING TO Malmsheimer, there are numerous other reactions-fantasies, dreams, religious experiences, recollections of past crises, and, of course, jokes-that she, three other professors and 18 to 20 Dickinson students are attempting to record for a study on how people react to a crisis situation.

The students are now conducting in-depth interviews with both college students and people in the community and Monday will send out a detailed questionnaire on the subject. They are also asking that anyone with interesting stories, jokes, religious experiences or any other interesting reactions to the accident write them to Reaction to Reactor Project, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa. 17013.

"Folklore is one of the quickest responses to a crisis," Malmsheimer said. "New terms, wit, jokes tend to reveal the way people feel and the things they fear.

"Many of the jokes are forms of denial. It's kind of like saying it couldn't happen or it couldn't happen here."

She said the mental images people have, their fantasies, dreams, perceptions, jokes-call can be very revealing about the way they are reacting.

"A LOT of people connect it with bomb images which is expectable," Malmsheimer said. "People alive during World War II connected it with Pearl Harbor."

"People who became adults in the 1960's are more likely to connect it with the Kennedy death and other events of the 60's."

"It's not a rational process. It has to do with confusion, wondering if anybody's in charge. There are also images from different kinds of disaster films."

"We're trying to find out what sorts of cultural inventories people draw on in a situation that is unprecedented for them."

She said often people will use their imaginations to place themselves in a prior crisis situation which will then help them to better understand the new crisis and how they wish to react to it.
Although definitive, conclusions on the study may not be reached for some time; Malmsheimer said members of the group conducting the interviews will give a presentation Friday at 1:30 p.m. in the college's Holland Union Building.

In the meantime, Malmsheimer believes the area may soon be crawling with social scientists eager to study the reactions of people to the accident.

"We're at the beginning, and we're lucky," she said.