The number of broken ceiling tiles littering the hallways of Ivory Tower seems to be multiplying with each passing weekend, far outnumbering the potential solutions to this problem.
It is clear that both the University and most GW students would like this behavior to end. Sadly, last week’s e-mail from Residential Property Management announcing that all residents would shoulder the cost of vandalism to common areas did not help. Although RPM rightfully retracted this unauthorized policy in a subsequent e-mail, it failed to provide an alternative solution.
Criticizing RPM for poor message control is tempting, but it will do nothing to resolve this pressing issue. Instead, both the University and the student body need to change the way they view this situation. If GW genuinely wants to address the vandalism and apprehend the perpetrators, it should implement time-tested UPD patrols instead of threatening innocent students and breeding paranoia. Likewise, students must change the way they view common spaces in residence halls.
A beefed-up UPD presence in Ivory might sound too old-school to work, but it more likely to curtail destructive behavior and make it harder for vandals to evade justice. Of course this increased presence would cost money, but if GW can afford hourly patrols of Thurston all week long, it can probably scrounge up some change for Ivory. I spent my freshman year in Thurston and did not witness a single act of vandalism. Imagine how effective this would be in Ivory, with fewer underage drunks to take up the officers’ attention. People tend to shun solutions that pack an innovative punch, but why reinvent the wheel when this policy clearly works?
Speaking of shunning, the University should never adopt any policy resembling the one outlined in RPM’s first e-mail. I take the University at its word that the message was an honest mistake. Charging everyone for the actions of a few bad apples would breed a paranoid community desperate to lay blame on someone just to avoid shouldering the burden themselves. This approach would punish everyone and catch no one, and for this reason it must never see the light of day.
GW should also resist the temptation to place security cameras in Ivory’s halls. This very costly measure would only worsen paranoia and create the impression that the University does not trust its own students to act responsibly. GW needs to show that it recognizes the vast majority of students are not to blame for this vandalism.
GW must take the lead on this issue, but unless we want to forfeit our civil liberties in the name of saving ceiling tiles, it is on us to pick up the rest of the slack. So what can the vast majority of adults living in GW’s residence halls do to stop the children among us from breaking things?
Try keeping your doors open. No, seriously.
Remember when hallways were hangout spaces and leaving your door shut was considered antisocial behavior? Bringing back this freshman-year tradition would drastically reduce vandalism in two ways. An open door has the same effect as a camera without that uncomfortable Big Brother sensation; knowing someone is watching you robs vandalism of its appeal. It would also encourage residents to value common spaces and remedy the “tragedy of the commons” situation that has caused over $3,000 in damage this year alone in Ivory Tower.
If we are truly serious about stopping vandalism, both GW and the student body need to change how they deal with this unenviable situation. Let’s resist infeasible proposals and go back to time-tested practices like patrolling and community-building to ensure that Ivory Tower lives up to its name.
-The writer, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.
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