This week, I have a story for you. I hope this little parable illustrates a rarely talked about, yet supremely injurious aspect of our collegiate life — bicycle theft. I believe the way in which students treat each other’s two-wheeled transit machines speaks volumes about systemic issues of injustice in our community.
Most societies have basic rules and principles that guide the norms of civic life. For instance, nearly all nations have decided that murder and arson are bad things, and we pass judgment on those who transgress what the majority has deemed impermissible. Theft, of any personal belonging, usually makes it onto the “things that we as decent human beings think are bad” list. Even in a community of self-centered young adults, most would stop and pause before stealing a laptop, article of clothing or chicken tender from Late Night Collis (just kidding). Yet when my freshman self woke up one morning to find his bike stolen, his sometimes-hysterical grievances fell on deaf ears. “Dude, you should’ve locked it up better,” seemed to be everyone’s opinion. One person tried to assuage my suffering by letting me borrow his bike, which was spray-painted black and itself had the tinge of a stolen good. But nobody seemed to understand why I was so indignant. Apparently stealing bicycles is completely permissible at Dartmouth. We have come a long way from when horse thieves faced the gallows.
So I went bikeless for three years, resolved to the arduous five-minute treks across campus without the aid of speedy transportation. Then, earlier this fall, I found my bike. After dancing around for a while, I called Safety and Security and triumphantly told them to cut the lock, my 1980 Fuji was back — still lacking rear breaks! Unfortunately, since I didn’t have the serial code, the officer refused to return it, despite my protestations that the bike was worth nothing and without a doubt mine (I had pictures to prove it!). When the new owner appeared, he said he had found it earlier in the year and handed it over without a struggle. But the officer merely packed up the bike and took it back to headquarters.
Let me assure you that this bike was worthless when it was stolen and that after three hard years of being dumped and rediscovered, it was barely functional. Even so, I was incensed that after terms of casually looking at every bike rack for my old piece of junk, it would not be turned over to me. My eminently reasonable response was to complain to anyone that would listen. One friend recommended reporting to Hanover Police that Safety and Security had stolen my bike. After a quick chat with the dispatcher, I walked over to Safety and Security’s office and, with the council of the town on my side, demanded the return of my bike. Two days later, I found myself cruising around campus with no way to stop. Basically, I won — the police’s support only may have helped.
I digressed from my original point. That’s alright — my little anecdote is emblematic of the bike crisis on campus. I was injured unjustly, and there was nothing I could do about it. In fact, when I reported my grievance, most people told me that it was “just part of the culture” and that I was “asking for theft by leaving my bike unlocked.” Finally, when I found my bike, the authorities told me that since there was no way to prove my claim, they could not help me at all. Justice was only served by extraordinary action on my part.
We live in a community where group acceptance of wrongdoing allows evil to continue unabated. As a new student, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I didn’t properly lock my bike. How could it be my fault it was stolen? The apathetic response by my community shows just how far we have fallen. Small measures like providing underclassmen with bike locks and mandatory lectures on freshmen floors are not going to change anything about this systemic problem. What we need is a culture shift, all encompassing, that will protect our students from having to walk everywhere.