Too much on number two: The overreaction isn’t helpful – or warranted

Williams College may be ranked number one in the nation, but there’s been a lot of talk on campus about number two recently – and I’m not only talking about Amherst. The Serial Defecator has struck with such regularity and force that many Williams students are now living in fear that their dorms or bedrooms may be next.

I’m certainly concerned. I tried to submit this op-ed anonymously, so the Defecation Smearer wouldn’t be able to smear his excrement on my walls. Smearer, if you’re reading this (and I know you are – you probably cut out all your press clippings and put them on your walls like a Hollywood serial killer), please don’t come after me.

The defecation attacks made October a rough month for Williams. We are now the laughingstock of the NESCAC. “We May Be #2, but At Least We’re Potty-Trained,” claims a rumored Amherst College t-shirt, and my friends at other NESCAC schools have called to make fun of me for going to “the S–t School.” The national media has picked up this story, and pretty soon, I fear that U.S. News and World Report is going to start subtracting points for each bio-cleanup – our reputation is in serious jeopardy.

Of course, this negative attention is mostly our own fault. Instead of treating these grotesque attacks as the work of an individual jerk, we have treated it as a campus-wide problem. The bio-cleanup ticker has made its debut, and we can rattle off the stats for the number of rogue dumps, pisses and vomits as easily as art history slides. But drunken vomiting and pissing are hardly new, and because Williams has no fraternities, we probably have less of this kind of behavior than most colleges in America. Thus, it is the malicious and intentional defecations that have made the headlines, and prompted irrational overreactions.

The hysteria and outrage about these incidents have gradually evolved into hysteria about Williams culture in general. Listening to the administration, the College Council, or the embittered bloggers writing anti-Williams polemics on WSO, it’s tempting to conclude that these biological attacks reflect deeply-rooted problems with our community. Anyone with an axe to grind has used the Smearer to introduce his or her personal gripes about why Williams sucks; according to these social critics, our alcoholism, entitlement, homophobia, racism and general depravity as a community are all apparent when we look at our soiled walls. Under this line of thinking, we are all smearers, and we need shape up or find ourselves swiftly descending into hell.

In an all-campus e-mail last month, CC co-president Morgan Goodwin ’08 wrote, “Since theoretically everyone reads this – Please s–t in toilets. Walls, stairs and common rooms are not the right places. Is it ridiculous to have to put this in an all campus e-mail?” Well, actually, it’s only ridiculous that Goodwin decided to put this friendly advice in an all-campus e-mail – as if the Smearer, checking his e-mail with stained fingers, would think to himself, “Oh, wow. Defecating all over the place is wrong, after all.” The scolding e-mail reeked of self-righteous condescension; I felt like my sixth grade homeroom teacher was reprimanding me, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong.

The College, sounding much like the Department of Homeland Security, has proposed a ridiculous card access restriction plan for our dorms. This is one of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard – it’s like some parody of the crackdown in airport security since 9/11. Yes, the Smearer is bad and should be stopped, but restricting card access is a way for the College to pretend like it’s doing something when it really isn’t. If the Smearer is nuts enough to toss his own excrement everywhere, he’s nuts enough to find a way into a building – or to wait until someone opens the door. Restricting card access would be a paranoid and ineffective move, and make life unnecessarily more difficult for the 99 percent of our College that doesn’t defecate in common rooms.

The sad thing about all this panic is that it means that the attacker has won. He has made us question our way of life, and has undermined the trust that we have in each other. I’m all for self-criticism – just not in this wildly reactionary way. We may have some serious issues as a community, but smearing our own waste on walls all over campus is not one of them. We need to stop acting like the Bush administration, and start acting like responsible and reasonable human beings.

In the end, it may not be possible to stop this person without calling in Gil Grissom from CSI and testing everyone’s DNA. We might just need to accept that the Smearer is crazy, and there’s not a whole lot we can do to stop him or, God forbid, her. The worst thing we could do would be to retreat into cocoons of paranoid isolation. Who knows – maybe the Smearer will end up having a change of heart.

Matt Roach ’08 is a history and English major from Middletown, Del.