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Campus News

Starting Wildfires

By Grace Hatton, Editor-in-Chief 

In the evening hours of Friday April 4th a student-l email was sent from Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, Paula Garrett, to the student body outlining what seemed to be a sensational new policy about smoking on campus. The email discussed how, due to increased smoking on campus and the college’s desire to collect more information in regards to student smoking habits, all smokers would “be asked to wear wristbands in order to continue smoking on campus.”

The email went on to outline how wristbands would be handed out at tables in the Gladfelter lobby as well as in the Health Center. A further requirement of this new “policy” was that the wristband would be required to be visible at all times and that Public Safety officers would “help enforce the wearing of wristbands so that our data is reliable.” The email ended with Garrett thanking students for their cooperation in advance. However, students were not ready or willing to cooperate. Almost immediately students began to post concerns and questions on Facebook and other social media sites. Additionally emails of protest were sent to Garrett, some more cordial than others.

“I received a number of emails from students, probably about 30,” says Garrett “Most were very thoughtful in questioning either the wristbands or the process.  Some were, unfortunately, very poor argumentation, resorting first and almost solely to ad hominem.  I hope that is the result of late Friday night thinking or anger.”

The Confessions of an Owl facebook page was also flooded with “confessions” about the new policy. The confession posts range from the curious, “#3399 “smokers are required to wear wristbands now?” to the defiant “#3401 “I will not be banded. Just because I smoke doesn’t mean I need to be marked as such for the whole world to see. I refuse to wear such a thing and know many people will too,” to the outrageous “#3413 “Why am I getting ostracized for smoking? If Garrett thinks I’m gonna wear a bracelet to label me as a smoker, she’s severely mistaken. This is some Reichstag Fire Decree shit.”

Evidently the response and criticism of the “policy” was harsh and swift. And then talk of it being a joke or an experiment surfaced. On Saturday April 5th  Garrett sent out another student-l email from her account explaining that the entire thing was developed as an experiment for her First-Year Seminar class.  Garrett’s First-Year Seminar is framed around three questions: Who Am I, How Do I Know, and How Do I Act Responsibly? According to Garret’s student-l the smoking wristbands idea came about when the students were asked to develop an experiment as part of the “How do I act responsibly?”

The point of the experiment however, according to Garrett’s second student-l, was not so much about keeping smokers responsible but was more so about understanding how students dealt with authority. “The point was to see how and how quickly students would respond to authority,” said the second student-l “We wanted to see if students would respond as individuals or as groups. We also wanted to know if students would respond at all or just ignore the request.”

Garrett went onto explain how in the short period of time she had received numerous responses from students and apologized for striking a nerve within the community. However, what the second student-l failed to apologize for is the careless way Garrett chose to share this experiment with the campus. And, the second student-l failed to examine why our ability to respond to authority needs to be tested at all.

When I asked why there was a need for a student-l to be sent out about the smoking wristbands, thus making it seem official and legitimate, Garrett said “the students wanted some kind of an official announcement.”

But one has to wonder why couldn’t an official announcement be a calendar event on the homepage of the Inside page or  have been sent out by a crew (on behalf of the students in the class) that deals with substance abuse such as ASAP. The fact  that the first student-l came from Garrett’s account led students to pay more attention to it and think it was a reality. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time Garett has sent out an email late at night that contained huge-college-altering news (such as the email sent to business majors and minors last semester notifying them of the impending closure of the business program).

As far as why Garrett felt the need to include public safety monitoring the wristbands, which again made the “policy” seem more legitimate, she mentioned that one of her students had been discussing the experiment with a public safety officer who had agreed to check in on smokers if needed. This is quite different from having multiple officers constantly monitoring smoking huts, etc, for wristbands, which seemed likely under the plan detailed in the first student-l.

All of the details within the email helped to make it seem more legitimate and effectively tricked the student body into thinking a new official “policy” was in place. This,  of course, led to all the social media buzz and response emails, including emails sent to parents and members of the non-Wilson world. Thus, this whole little experiment was blown up far beyond one First-Year seminar class and even beyond the residential campus. The lesson here is student-l’s sent from the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College carry some weight and should be carefully reviewed and considered before being sent out to the entire student body.

And beyond that: why do we as a student body need to be experimented on? Yes, we are regularly asked to complete surveys and quizzes etc for the administration as well as fellow students, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation before where the student body was presented with a new “policy” only for it to act as a guise for a larger social experiment conducted by a small group of people. We are all adults and members of this community and we deserve to be treated as such. We deserve to be given honest and accurate information, especially from those in positions of authority. The smoking wristband fiasco has proven how quickly backlash will come to a student-l that is sent with the appearance of a drastic official policy change, but more than that it shows how careful members of the administration should be with releasing information and enacting drastic changes on a campus that values the process of a community decision.


2 Responses to “Starting Wildfires”

  1. Remember the radio show War of the Worlds by Orson Wells?

    A small group of people experimenting on a large unknowing population against their consent? You act like that never happens…

    Exercise in civil disobedience?

    Perhaps it could be a good exercise to encourage ones to police ourselves thru peer mediation rather than ask authority figures to be involved in solving our own problems? Am I my brothers keeper? Yes, if we acknowledge the interconnectedness of all things. But I don’t know if txt books really affirm the interconnectedness theory.

    Posted by tommy | April 21, 2014, 5:44 pm
  2. Thank you for this informative post!

    Posted by Dray | June 13, 2014, 8:33 am

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