Theft at Dartmouth

by Rebekka Brooks | 10/30/00 6:00am

That theft is a problem on our campus was made thoroughly clear to me when, the day before I discovered someone had stolen my pizza out of the dorm freezer, I discovered someone had stolen my bike out of the basement.

True, it wasn't locked. But it was in the basement! I didn't expect anyone would seek unlocked prey inside a dorm. Clearly, though, I should have anticipated that.

I think we all take the academic honor principle seriously. Yes, I was here last winter when the CS4 cheating scandal broke. But I believe those students fairly implicated in that scandal were aware their choice to cheat violated an important code of behavior. Those CS4 students whose stories I've heard felt unfairly dealt with, ensured a poor grade by a professor who held them responsible for material he hadn't taught. Struck by panic, fully aware they might face expulsion, the CS4 students took an unsavory risk -- cheated -- and felt guilty about doing so.

But I've never encountered evidence that, on this campus, guilt plagues bicycle thieves. In fact, I'm not even certain that stigma would stick to a known thief: I've heard students assert that bicycle theft, often performed (those I overheard claimed) by drunk students, is a funny matter to be taken lightly.

The student whom I intercepted in the act of bicycle theft on Friday 10/20, didn't seem to be drunk, but he certainly thought his proposed act funny. As I was walking to my dorm at about 10 p.m., I saw a group of students, one of whom was wheeling a bike away from the side of the dorm. One of that student's friends, seeing me, said, "Look, there's a witness," at which the would-be thief laughed, put the bike down and joined the group in walking away. The laugh I heard wasn't a loud, contemptuous laugh, nor was it a low laugh spurred by shame. Rather, it was a chuckle that conveyed to me the message, "Isn't it ironic that, although I consider stealing a bike to be a very light deed, such a small twist of fate as the presence of a witness convinces me to observe the formality of not stealing?"

Riding away on another student's bike isn't funny, clever or a stunt to be proud of, and it should not be considered as lending a neighbor's possession (albeit without permission). Taking another's bike, allowing the possibility that the owner will not find the bike when she wants to use it, and might never find it, is theft.

It's time that, as well as recognizing the academic honor principle, we take seriously the principle of community. I'll agree that the words of this principle sound a bit cliched: "The life and work of a Dartmouth student should be based on integrity, responsibility, and consideration " I'll argue that the goals of "integrity, responsibility, and consideration" are proposed frequently for good reason. And I'll challenge you to argue with me: do you want to live in a community in which we can reasonably expect our neighbors to leave us our own property? Or are you happy to live among some neighbors who follow the rule, "finder, keeper"?

I love the community of people whom I know in my dorm. Never before have I had so frequent and so enjoyable encounters with my hallmates.

But this campus's community is partially rotten. I don't believe it was necessarily a member of my dorm who stole my bike, but I do suspect it was a Dartmouth student.

Don't overestimate my zeal. If whomever took my bike from the basement of Wheeler would quietly replace it, I would be overjoyed. I wouldn't attempt to trace the person who had been keeping it. I would take better care of my bike -- I would put a lock on it right away. I would oil its gears more often; I would learn how to replace a flat tire. I'd attend a bike maintenance clinic, led by the folks at the rental shop in the basement of Robo, to learn the steps I should follow. And I would ride on several long, exploratory journeys through the Upper Valley this fall.

But don't underestimate my passion. I am truly disappointed that our Dartmouth community spawns thieves. In order for our campus to be a community in the sense I would like it to be, we all have to start taking the responsibility of neighborliness more seriously.

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