Spring Break is soon upon us — yes, dear students, even we old alums have a Spring Break, depending on where our children go to school (strangely enough my daughters attend a school with the same schedule as Williams) — so now is a good time for EphBlog to solve a longstanding College problem: damaging and disrespectful behavior by students. See this WSO discussion for background. Joe Shoer ’06 writes:

Geri Ottaviano wrote a really good op-ed in the Record a number of weeks ago on this very subject — the need for more individual responsibility — in the context of alcohol policy at Williams. To summarize and paraphrase: Williams does not have a drinking problem. Williams has a drinking and destroying stuff problem. The administration must take a much, much harsher stance on individual violators than it already does. It must find a way to (1) punish those at fault, rather than the whole campus, and (2) punish disrespectful behavior rather than punishing alcohol consumption, which can be benign. For instance, if a Security guard catches a student urinating in a public space, they shouldn’t just give them a warning and ask them to be careful next time, oh and please clean up, as an afterthought — that student should go marching right off to the Dean’s office. Community service would make an excellent punishment.

The problem is that it is very hard for the College bureaucracy to monitor and punish student misbehavior without extensive student involvement. There are just not enough security officers. Moreover, students (like Joe) are generally unwilling to rat out their peers. Joe complains about damage in Perry House but has, presumably, not reported the miscreants to the Deans Office. Why not? Well, partly because students don’t want to rat out one another, partly because they distrust the Deans Office to do the right thing and, perhaps, partly out of fear of retaliation (see below).

How to fix it? Simple! WSO should create a public website, run by a student committee appointed by College Council or the Gargoyles and devoted to pictures taken by students of other students behaving badly. See someone steal a toaster from the snack bar or trash the picnic tables in the freshman quad or shout a drunken slur and, click, record the moment. Take their picture and send it in. Pissed that people are pushing rudely at a dance? Take their picture and send it in. If you know the names of the people in the picture, provide them. Tell the story behind the pictures. Explain why you don’t think that this behavior belongs at Williams.

Those pictures and the associated names and commentary would be posted for all to see, perhaps right on the WSO main page. Students who know the names of those pictured could post that information. Students who think that they are unfairly named or pictured would be able to respond, to explain why their behavior was misunderstood or justified or whatever. Discussion would ensue. Picture/names/incidents could be removed once “misunderstandings” were corrected.

What are the advantages of such a plan?

First, it is incremental. Try it for a while and see if it works. There is little cost to experimentation. If it doesn’t work, stop. If it does, expand the program.

Second, it does not require permission of the College. Students have the power to do this themselves. Moreover, any plan that requires an active change in College procedures is unlikely to be effective. The College has struggled with students-behaving-badly for decades. Other colleges face identical issues. If there were some policy change that administrators could make, that change would have been made by someone, somewhere. Waiting for the College to act is a prescription for despair. Such an approach also avoids the hard problems of guilt/innocence/proportionality/procedure that the College must consider it its official disciplinary procedures.

Third, it does not require resources. Indeed, a single student could start by just posting a discussion on the WSO homepage and keeping that discussion updated. (Can you include pictures in a discussion?) EphBlog would also be willing to host the effort. It would be better if the project were officially sponsored by CC or Gargoyles, but that could come later.

Fourth, students acting collectively to maintain and improve their community is in the best traditions of Williams. Indeed, students already do a great deal of looking out for each other, of stopping fights and avoiding trouble, of preventing a peer from doing something that he’ll regret in the morning.

The right way to think of this effort is not in terms of public shaming. Putting up a picture of Joe Idiot ’08 as he pushes to the front of the drink line or trashes someone’s bicycle may shame him a bit, but it is more likely to anger him. The purpose here is not shame, it is prevention or even deterrence.

Once Williams becomes the sort of place at which destructive and disrespectful behavior is openly monitored and mocked by the students themselves, there will be a lot less destructive and disrespectful behavior.

See here for a related discussion. Note, in particular, the comment (in jest?) by Adam Pinto.

I just want to throw out there, that even if I had destroyed thousands of dollars worth of property and felt bad about it, I would beat the absolute hell out of anyone who tried to “publicly shame” me, and if they kicked me out of here, at least I could look at myself in the mirror at night. Something tells me I’m not alone on that.

No, Adam, you’re not alone. And that’s the problem. Too many thuggish Williams students do not think that the standards of the community apply to them, do not believe that they should be held accountable for their actions. For the most part, however, those thugs have been correct.

Who will be the first to stand up to Adam?

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