By Jonah Allon
Just after winter break, the residents of McBride received an email from Housing and Residential Life informing us that our kitchen ﾗ which, on especially rowdy nights, bears an eerie resemblance to the diner in Balm in Gilead ﾗ had been ransacked, and that it would have to be closed down temporarily. But that wasn’t all. If someone didn’t own up to the vandalism soon, they warned, then the cost of the damages would be equally distributed among all the residents.
It doesn’t take a miser to recognize the inherent unfairness of the situation. And if it were a passing act of debauchery from an outsider, a non-resident, then all the more unreasonable. Of course, no one could reasonably blame Housing and Res Life for threatening to impose a dorm-wide fine, no matter how egregious. Someone had to pay. Someone always has to pay. And ultimately, those threats proved effective: the culprit stepped forward and took responsibility, the superior dictates of Fairness and Reason won out, and the natural order of the universe was re-established ﾗ with the major caveat that McBride was kitchen-less for a week or so.
The identity of the culprit is, at this point, inconsequential. I bring the episode up because it fits perfectly into a larger, campus-wide trend of an unprecedented scale. This campus has taken a beating, one akin to sporadic and swift punches to the gut that leave you with just enough time to tentatively exhale before the next capricious-yet-inevitable blow. And this isn’t the exclusive province of the Village Record. The evidence of the destruction is empirical, and it is keenly and acutely felt by all members of the community.
If blame were a kind of currency, our cycle of vandalism would be self-sufficient and therefore largely innocuous, a mere nuisance instead of an urgent issue. But the fact of the matter is we’re a small campus working with finite resources. There’s plenty of blame getting tossed around, to be sure. Theories abound about whether these are isolated and spontaneous incidents or the work of a few, whether the blame lies largely on a crop of destructive first years or restless juniors and seniors, and whether alcohol or sheer stupidity is the driving force behind these acts. What we know for certain is that there’s very little rhyme or reason to any of it. It’s hard to imagine any conceivable conscious application of thought when someone empties the contents of a fire extinguisher in the Gund Commons basement, or rips a door clean off its hinges (because frankly, “I couldn’t get into my room” just doesn’t cut it). Both of these, by the way, are real examples.
The question of who’s responsible is productive, to be sure ﾗ especially if it does turn out to be the work of a few less-than-mindful masterminds. But we can’t become monomaniacal in that lone pursuit ﾗ or Quest for Justice, if you will. Because in doing so, we tend to gloss over a fundamental lack of understanding ﾗ or perhaps a willful misunderstanding ﾗ about the hidden costs of vandalism.
I assume that, on some level, we know that a broken door is a costly thing to replace. We can even put a concrete number on it ﾖ and in its reporting on vandalism, the Collegian has done so (“Vandalism: Crime Rate Unprecedented in Recent Years,” Feb. 7, 2013). And yet, rampant vandalism persists in spite of the universal accessibility to this information. This would seem to suggest that those who continue to destroy lack an appropriate sense of scale: in a small community with limited resources, every disruption is amplified, and every unnecessary cost is regressive.
But improper scaling isn’t the only issue at hand. It might not occur to us, either, to consider the profound unfairness of an overtime maintenance cleanup crew called back to Gund Commons to deal with a foamy toxic mess from an emptied fire extinguisher. Very few of us would voluntarily opt to spend a weekend night in the basement of Gund Commons. I assume it’s no different for our maintenance staff.
Or, to go back to an earlier example, take the costs (and not just in the monetary sense) of an overtime maintenance cleanup crew that had to be called back to Gund Commons to deal with the foamy, toxic mess, on top of the costs to replace the emptied fire extinguisher. Consider the profound unfairness of a group of employees called back to work, likely long after the work-day was over, so that they could clean up an unnecessary mess that was probably made by a very privileged individual in the first place. Very few of us would voluntarily opt to spend a weekend night in the basement of Gund Commons. I assume it’s no different for our maintenance staff.
And this is to say nothing of the opportunity costs of such actions. I wish I had some kind of searing statistic that illustrated just how detrimental vandalism is to the health of campus life in terms of the financial losses incurred, and how those losses might have been allocated otherwise. Perhaps some accumulation of all the vandalism costs throughout the year compared with an average year’s tuition, or varying financial aid packages, or even ﾗ and this is ambitious ﾗ the cost of one of our recently-constructed edifices. Suffice it to say for now, money that could have gone toward the general flourishing of the campus and student life is squandered on the very kinds of actions that directly impede that flourishing. 12