At the beginning of this academic year, College Park Hall welcomed a convenient change to the food kiosk on the first floor: the kiosk became a 24-hour self check-out service. However, it only lasted to the end of Winter Term of th 2016-2017 academic year. Dining Services closed it down due to repeated thefts. To many people, this announcement was quite staggering; Union College has always been all students’ safe territory where theft rarely occurs, and when it does, it’s usually by trespassers.
Yet, this time, the thefts are in CPH, which is next to the office of Campus Safety and is accessible at night only by Union ID’s. Moreover, the theft was reported not just once, as by some unknown person wandering into our campus, but many times. It is very likely that some (or one) of our peers are responsible for these wrongdoings, against the sworn words of the Honor Code. What does this say about our student body? Are Union students criminals? Are we dishonored and sly?
It is alarming that in light of this incident, some among us start to criticize our own peers and generalize the bad behaviors of some students to the whole student body; to say that “apparently, Union is not what it seems” with gloomy or mockery tone; to silently, temporarily put ourselves outside (or above) the others. In fact, I did that myself. But what does Union seem like, really? What is our perception of our own college? A bubble of overly pampered, privileged kids, who are in such abundance that they would never steal? A nurturing, intellectual environment full of educated and civilized aspirants, who would never engage in immoral behaviors?
Any individual, group, organization or institution has the bad and the good. No college – a body of more than a thousand persons – is full of righteous, disciplined students. We humans are always quick to pick up the bad traits and generalize it to a whole group. This incident at CPH does not say anything new about the student body: we have always been that same group of young people of differences. It only makes us realize how we assume all our peers act in the same way, and so, we rarely step out of our circles to get to know the people we live with.
Is it possible that we have friends with kleptomania, a psychological disorder that makes people addicted to stealing? Is it possible that we have friends with limited financial abilities and are in need of help? This is not to say that those who could not buy are justified to steal, but to call people to take the less judgmental, less negative perspective when assessing others and to understand others’ problems and perspective before judging.
Even if those who are not kleptomaniacs (or not financially deficit) stole, we woud still have to ask them questions; to take an empathetic approach. Those who stole are not bad people because they did something wrong in their 20’s. Union is not bad because one or two of us erred. Instead of giving judgments, let’s act and help to rectify the problems that lead to thievery. For example, let’s examine the circumstance in which thefts may have ocurred. Residents of CPH reported that the self-checkout was not always working.
Though claimed to be a 24-hour service, it is said to go offline at times, mostly after midnight. Furthermore, some of the products at display are not logged into the system. Both problems might have stopped students from checking out the goods. Thefts might not have been thefts – defined as the willful appropriation of others’ possessions – but cases in which students struggled with the malfunctioning self-checkout system and gave up!
Nevertheless, taking unpaid goods is undoubtedly wrong, under whatever circumstances. But while those who stole should learn their lessons – that their wrongdoings caused a scandal and took away the benefits from a whole community of residents at CPH – those who were so quick to judge and generalize should also stop and reflect. If this incident says anything about us, it is that some of our friends might need psychological help, financial assistance or directions to control spur of the moment behaviors and to get over feelings of guilt. So, instead of pointing fingers and criticizing others, we should look to help the people that feel like the only way to help themselves is through theft.