When I was a freshman at Fredonia, a friend of a friend of mine got hit by a car in a crosswalk. Let’s call him Nick.
Nick was badly injured. After being shuttled to Brooks Hospital in an ambulance, x-rays showed that he had a fractured femur, two fractured ribs, and a grade 2 concussion. Nick didn’t return to school that fall semester.
Over winter break we found out that Nick’s family was suing Fredonia for negligence. They claimed that the “Yield” sign in the crosswalk wasn’t bright enough to be seen by cars in the evening hour that Nick was walking. After a lengthy court battle, the jury found the university guilty of negligence.
That spring semester Nick received a letter from the president of the university at the time, Dr. Dennis Hefner, granting him full tuition for the remainder of his college career.
Important note: This story is complete fiction.
For a long time there’s been an urban legend at Fredonia (and lots of other places) that if a student gets hit by a car in a crosswalk she gets her tuition paid for. Of course, nobody knows anybody who’s gotten hit by a car in a crosswalk, let alone gotten her tuition paid for from it. Nobody even knows where to look to confirm this theory. I can’t find it in any manual, anywhere.
The crosswalk-tuition legend has been incredibly successful; it’s simple, emotional, and story-driven. It has all the elements that great marketers use to sell products. In this case, it just happens to be false.
In my story, the dead giveaway was in the first sentence: “. . . a friend of a friend.” I didn’t actually see it happen.
I think there’s often distrust between a university and its students because the cost of college is so high: “Will I be able to pay off my student loans?” “Is what you’re teaching me actually useful?” “Will I be able to get a job?” There’s a fear that the debt will be crippling and the university will be responsible for it.
When we’re afraid we become receptive to stories that make us feel better: “Free tuition if I throw myself in a crosswalk? Sign me up!” It feels like retribution for the evil administrators that are making college so expensive.
It’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not an excuse to believe false stories (see: United States political discourse).