Lawless Culture

Anonyme, Monday, June 7, 2010 - 15:40

Sudhama Ranganathan

Upon entering college people prepare themselves for the real world through self discipline, new ideas and social experimentation. Testing society's boundaries is to be expected along with learning some personal ones. At a time when students are out of sight from their parents often the only persons left to provide guidance, assistance and assurance to impressionable minds are professors.

What happens when professors forsake that responsibility for the benefit of a personal agenda? If this could be possible, how? College students tend to be protective of their individual rights and sensitive to corruption. For a professor to do something like that it would take gall, a knack for subtlety and cleverness.

I'll propose a scenario. There's a tiny department in a huge college no one outside the program pays much attention to. Most classes for the department are clustered in an aging piece of architecture a good 10 minutes walk from the heart of campus. The program's major requires a rigorous class schedule and an even more demanding requirement for homework. The one bonus to the scenario is a space provided where students do homework together. The space is the same one most classes for the department take place. Students of the program are given door keys to access the building and classrooms after hours when the doors are usually locked to everyone but the staff and professors.

Students accepted to the department spend hour upon hour in the classrooms. Homework is so demanding it isn't unusual for people to work all night and get no sleep to finish a project by it's deadline. The graduates of the program will no doubt have the discipline necessary to meet the demands of todays competitive workplace. They will also learn dedication to a task and pushing personal limits.

Where would students in such a rigorous degree program do the social experimentation needed to gain the full college experience? They do it in the classrooms themselves and this has been happening since the beginning of the program. Weekend parties are carried out in these rooms to such an extent maintenence people from the building have been known to complain about the amount of cans and bottles filling up the trash cans in the morning. This of course is technically against university policy, and professors in the department are fully aware of this but tacitly permit it in order to facilitate some measure of respite for the students. Some people call this a progressive program, others call it a necessary evil and parents say, "just don't tell me about it." It's easy to see how a situation like this could get messy or out of control. The message being sent by those in a position of authority here could be viewed as saying, "it's okay to bend the rules and break them a little."

Now back to certain professors with their own agendas. Imagine there is a student that certain professors want out of the program. They decide the best way to get rid of the student is to harass the person out of the program by causing them to drop out or flunk out from the stress of having to deal with intolerance. Afraid they won't be successful without the aid of students they endeavor to conscript their pupils to get some help in an activity which by the laws of any U.S. state or the federal government is illegal. A traditionally pliant attitude toward "the rules" in this program could be a boon to any such undertaking and leverage for specific faculty members.

The professors would need to recruit students with sympathetic leanings such as a certain political affinity, a sense of loyalty to a larger attitude or those who might view such activity as fun. There is only a small percentage of students in the class interested in participating in such behavior at first. Students struggle together on difficult projects to find common solutions to common tasks, thus bonds between them grow strong. In a place where people rely on each other to find clues and information for success no one wants to be pegged as an outsider .

From early childhood most of us are taught going against the grain and causing waves are things to be frowned upon and avoided at all costs. It isn't hard to see the dilemma students bearing witness to the harassment could find themselves in. The inappropriate behavior towards the targeted student is subtle at first and most students in the class ignore it. As it becomes more obvious some students raise doubts and display disapproval of the treatment of their peer and themselves for choosing not to cooperate. However, the signs are all around that contrary attitudes are not in line with finding success in the program.

One sign might be copies of certain students recent arrest reports from the local papers tapped to the classroom walls like tongue in cheek plaques of honor. There is also an area called "the wall of shame" where the names of students who dropped out or flunked out of the program stand as reminders of what could be. It can be construed in this environment that a certain level of lawlessness might be tolerable, acceptable and even cool. After putting in so much time and effort in no student wants to be considered out or on the wall of shame.

The program has a subjective grading criteria and students who raise doubts or insinuate complaints see their grades drop and when they stay silent grades rise again - message sent. Raising concerns about the discrimination leads to being on the outs with one's peers and teachers. Even worse one could be in jeopardy of flunking out of the program altogether. Cooperating with the lynch mob mentality means good or passing grades. The definition of breaking the law in this institution has become murky to say the least.

In this situation attaining an already stressful college degree is now hell not only for the targeted individual, but also for those forced to stand by and watch him being harassed. A place like the one I describe here can be real. I know because it happened to me when I was a student at the University of Connecticut's Landscape Architecture Department. When I was in that program turning a blind eye to crime was at times the smartest thing a student could do. At times it was the law however hushed it might have been.

Looking back on the experience makes me wonder this: do we live in a culture so saturated with fear that we are taught preserving our safety means denying crimes happening right in front of our faces? If so then along with 50 Cent the law of the streets has become king. Perhaps this means that from the most impoverished neighborhoods to the squeaky clean halls of white collar America to our educational systems the law is keep your mouth shut, because snitches get stitches.

To read more about my experiences with harassment at The University of Connecticut go to

[ EDIT (Mic à titre de validation au CMAQ)
* added spaces between the paragraphs
* added the topic Culture | Education | Rights.
* removed the topic Racism since the text does not discuss it
* moved from the section Press Release (collective) to Analysis. ]

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