Right next to the third floor entrance to the High Rise stairwell, amidst a sea of other quasi-anarchist graffiti, sits the simple instruction: “Expect Resistance.” It’s not often that I find myself agreeing with the sort of naïve nonsense that frequently gets written on Wesleyan’s walls, but as a resident of High Rise who is being unjustly fined for the malfeasance of other people, I must concur wholeheartedly with the anonymous writer of this graffiti. Expect resistance, indeed!
Over Labor Day weekend, a television was stolen from the High Rise lounge, and more recently, the walls of our fine building’s stairwell were tarnished by graffiti. As a response, the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) has decided that despite the fact that I and many other students were not here when the former offense was committed, and that many of us don’t mind the graffiti, we must now pay $60 apiece to appease ResLife’s thirst for blood.
ResLife has not justified this action with anything other than the frail, pathetic argument that we signed a contract stating it could do this, and that therefore it must do this. Much like ResLife’s one attempt to appease us—a meeting with milk and cookies—this logic could only pacify kindergarteners.
In the first place, ResLife argues that since we all signed the housing contract, we must abide by what it says. However, let’s consider the conditions in which we signed the housing contract—we were effectively told that we could not move into our rooms as freshmen if we didn’t sign it. Now, speaking purely from the perspective of an amateur legal theorist, it seems to me that holding the threat of homelessness for four years over the head of a college student in order to make him or her sign a contract is at least a minor form of duress.
What were we supposed to do? Were we supposed to sleep on the steps of Olin simply because we objected to one passage of the contract? Fly to another college and beg it to let us in even though we’d turned it down months ago because the one we went to had a housing contract which offended basic standards of justice? ResLife is standing on very touchy ground at the point in which it wants to bully us with a contract we were bullied into signing.
But even if ResLife does have the right to do this, that is not the primary question here. The question is whether the policy that allows ResLife to do this has the right to exist. At the point where this policy is an offense against every conceivable legal code on the planet, it clearly doesn’t have the right to exist.
Let’s take this principle—“If no one is caught, the community pays”—a step further. Suppose that in New York City, the detective agency, rather than trying to catch a murderer, simply threatened to hold all of New York City in jail for two days if the citizens of New York didn’t give up the murderer voluntarily. This scenario is patently absurd, and it should strike any legally inclined reader that way. But I’m not going to rest this case on the assumption that my readers find the above situation to be ridiculous.
In the first place, setting aside the obvious absurdity of holding countless people accountable for a crime they didn’t commit, what is specifically wrong with holding a community accountable for the crimes of one member? Several things are wrong.
Number one, the way ResLife has designed the scenario, it has effectively given the green light to students to act as vigilantes against their fellow students.
This is not unintentional. Maureen Isleib, associate director of Residential Life, said as much in an interview with the Argus (as printed in the article “ResLife fines High Rise residents,” Oct. 10, 2008, Volume CXLIV, Number 12): “Hopefully, students will be angry enough that they will help in identifying those responsible.”
If anyone should be trying to catch the perpetrators, it is either Public Safety or the Middletown Police, not a group of financially panicked college students who are liable to do stupid things under pressure. One is reminded of the scene in “The Dark Knight” in which the Joker threatens to blow up a hospital if a particular person is not killed in an hour. Let’s put a smile on that face, eh, Ms. Isleib?
Number two, the incentive structure has made it so the guilty party has effectively no incentive to come forward on his own, because then he will be charged the full $8500, instead of splitting the costs across an entire building. Moreover, we have no way of knowing if the guilty party is even being charged, because several groups have access to High Rise who are not High Rise residents or even students. Those include residents of Low Rise who use the laundry facilities, the University staff and those Middletown residents with enough gumption and technical know-how to break in. At the point where this policy is not guaranteed to even incidentally punish the perpetrator, it is clearly mistaken.
But the most ridiculous thing about the University’s decision to enforce this policy is that it is utterly unnecessary. There is already a broken television in the High Rise lounge, which would surely cost less to fix.
But more importantly, painting over the “graffiti” is completely excessive. In the same Argus article, Ms. Isleib noted that she found the graffiti “nonsensical and obscene,” but having read the entirety of the stairwell, I can assure the reader that it is nothing but activist boilerplate of the naïve, drunken sort which one often hears at antiwar rallies. It is obscene only insofar as it is an insult to one’s intelligence, and I know of no law that says nonsense is banned at Wesleyan, as that would foreclose the possibility of the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (FGSS) major existing.
I urge my fellow High Rise residents and classmates to call their parents and ask them to complain about this absurd and unjust policy, because the only “nonsensical and obscene” thing is Ms. Isleib’s right to steal our money for the facilitation of her own Puritanism.