Campus theft reflects moral underpinnings

We like to boast about how safe Williams is. We can leave our iPods and wallets out, and they’ll go untouched; we can drop our credit cards and ID cards at First Fridays, and we can find them in Goodrich the next morning. That’s not always so.

Last week, I lost my iPod and a sizeable sum of money after leaving my coat in Mission Dining Hall. When I spoke to Security, I learned that there are quite a few thefts on campus: cases of money stolen from people’s rooms, laptops taken from unattended backpacks, credit cards and money taken from unattended wallets.

As I’m a philosophy major, I immediately wondered – once I’d gotten over some anger, half at myself for my absentmindedness – why? What is wrong with this picture? Maybe it’s that everything is easy here in the Purple Bubble. Classes are arranged for us; club activities and sports fit easily into our schedules; Dining Services caters to us. There are people to clean up after us; people to fix our computers; people to counsel us. Let’s face it. We’re coddled. And the principle is the same even if we don’t come from wealthy families, because our entitlement is not only material.

Our entitlement is moral, too. We hear so much about how we ought to conduct ourselves. We hear so many speakers, student organizations like RASAN, the Eph Rainbow Coalition, religious organizations, student government. Sometimes it feels there is little accountability given to the individual. There is little opportunity for us to think of what we, as individuals, consider “right.” We may become complacent, if we don’t force ourselves to think through moral choices independently because we are given the rote answer to every dilemma.

When we have a community that tells us what is right and wrong; a community that sets up a Claiming Williams Day, that exhorts us, however softly and subtly, to think this way and speak that way – we run the risk of losing something precious, something of our individual agency. We may forget that to continue to be good we have to face down temptation, hardship and pressure. We may forget that in end, we have to think deeply on our ethics and behavior. We have to make moral decisions as individuals.

I’m not sure what you thought when you took my things, whomever you may be. Maybe you felt you deserved them or found my absentmindedness contemptible. Or maybe, numb to the apparatus of personal responsibility, you didn’t think anything at all.

Samantha Segan ’10