Coming to terms with the Charity Week jail policy

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By Claire Ballor

Commentary Editor

 

 

 

 

 

What are the effects when a long-standing tradition is threatened or habits are forcibly changed? Our community is uncovering the answer to this question uncomfortably due to modifications of the Charity Week jail policy. Change is uncomfortable; that is nothing new. It stirs up the hearts of those anticipating, hoping, expecting things to stay the same. But it is necessary to fully understand the jail policy changes (which prevent the use of force when jailing others) before a full judgment of the situation is made.

The reactions to the policy change have been extreme at best and while they may be excessive, ultimately they should be seen as a good sign. They are reflective of the reverence and protective instinct UD students have towards the long-standing traditions that give form to our school, both of which are necessary in preserving these decade-long traditions.

This does not mean, though, that these reactions were warranted. It is imperative in any situation that understanding precedes reaction, and in this circumstance it was not the case. But this was a two-way street. Had the students understood the administrative measures and causes behind them, their reactions and words most likely would have been more thoughtful. However, had the administration understood the meaning of this tradition to UD students, they might have communicated these changes in a more proactive manner or even reconsidered the changes that they made.

Senior Erin Jones enjoys a cigarrete while in the Charity Week jail.  -Photo by Elizabeth Whitfield
Senior Erin Jones enjoys a cigarrete while in the Charity Week jail.
-Photo by Elizabeth Whitfield

The changes to the jail policy were announced to the public two days into Charity Week only because our newspaper published an article about the issue. This led to anger from many students who felt as though the administration had withheld this information. Prior to the publication of that article, the policy changes had only been mentioned in a jailer meeting the Sunday before, which roughly 15-20 seniors attended. Nowhere that I am aware of is this policy available for the general public to see. It is not provided online along with the other Charity Week information. I was able to see it because I asked for it. This was the first instance of poor communication.

Once the changes were made public, students and even alumni were in an uproar. Many believed the new policy to be excessive and completely unnecessary and the lack of communication of the changes only fueled their frustration. A beloved tradition was being threatened, causing emotions to run high. Several students took it upon themselves to build a rather shoddy but I suppose meaningful barricade around the jail complete with a painted sign that read “Resurrect The Jail” and a typed letter protesting the changes signed by “The Student Body.” This was the second instance of poor communication.

What the barricade did was prevent the jail from bringing in any money for several hours, which is counterproductive to an event meant to raise funds for charity, while the letter asked the administration for “fruitful and mutual dialogue” in a manner contrary to any fruitful or meaningful dialogue. What would have been more effective would be for someone to actively seek out this dialogue with administration and ask first for explanation for the purpose of understanding.

The open letter also asked for the opportunity for students “to prove that they are sufficiently responsible to uphold social traditions dear to them.” But this policy was not implemented because of irresponsible manhandling. It was implemented because of manhandling in and of itself. This indicates that students may have misunderstood the purpose of the changes.

The university implemented changes to the jail policy that prohibit the jailers from exerting any force or instigating any roughhousing in any way that could cause harm to anyone. Taking it for what it is, this policy addition is exceptionally normal and, in fact, it is surprising that this is the first year that this safety rule has been enforced. The reality is, forcibly grabbing someone against their will is assault no matter which way you look at it, and in terms of legality, the school simply cannot allow that to happen even if it is only a minority of students who feel this way about the jailing policy.

Clearly, as was proven in a recent case of a graduate student filing a formal complaint with the school, the physicality used by the jailers in years past is a liability to the university. If anyone were to get seriously injured, especially someone who had not verbally given consent to being taken into the jail, the school could have a serious and detrimental lawsuit on its hands. The change was made as a means of ensuring safety both physically for the students and legally for the university.

Many students argue that this policy change takes the “fun” out of the jail since high-speed chases and wrestling matches are no longer allowed. The fight and chase involved in jailing have been an integral part of the Charity Week jail for decades, and while it is sad to see alterations of such an iconic event, we have to assess the ultimate goals and necessity of these changes and be willing to sacrifice a bit of our fun for the sake of the protection of our school and our students.

Nevertheless, the administration needs to understand that the tradition of the jail is significant to the majority of the student body and an irreplaceable part of Charity Week. Although any policy changes are decided upon by the administration, as it should be, discussion with students prior to the start of Charity Week in regard to necessary changes to the policy would have most likely avoided much of the frustration that students had.

All of this said, we should be incredibly thankful that our most pressing current issues revolve around the preservation of a beloved school tradition. We must also understand that in the end, Charity Week is not about how much fun students have, but how much money we are able to raise for those in much greater need. It is my hope that in the future, there will be clearer communication between the administration and students so that traditions can be preserved while inevitable changes are made. Change is good, tradition is better, but achieving the two is an accomplishment that we should strive for as a unified community.

 

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