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For a Kinder Freshman Initiation

Elaine Y. Wan

For many freshmen, Sunday evening left a drenching memory for many years to come. Upperclassmen are given the inherent right by MIT tradition to shower the freshmen the night before the first Physics I(8.01) exam. The amiable upperclassman living next to you or down the hall who knocked on your door for a chat, you assumed, actually stormed into your room to drag you to the nearest stream of running water.

Several justifications are given for this annual act. "I was showered last year so I get to shower frosh this year" is the cry of some sophomores. Some call showering a friendly bonding experience; others say the freshmen won't have to shower again that night. Finally, the most infamous reason given says the showering helps frosh relieve stress.

I wasn't showered last year, so I can't give a personal account as to whether being showered is indeed a negative traumatic experience or an emotionally gratifying joy ride. But one can only guess that amongst a time of focus and high tension, being distracted by an unexpected spurt of violence is a bit more than irritating.

I learned about the tradition of maiming freshman back in high school. At my high school freshmen were rolled down snowy hills in garbage cans on "Freshman Friday," the first Friday of the school term.

But why does harassing freshmen have to be the tradition? A good friend of mine suggested that instead of showering freshmen, upperclassmen can have a "cook-for-the freshmen night" or bake them a cake. There has been so much controversy over hazing in fraternities, yet no one seems to be concerned about showering in dormitories. They are comparable situations and both can have detrimental consequences. Showering students means drenching the floor, which can cause accidents and electrical problems. Some bathrooms are left unusable and unsanitary the day after, which poses problems for students who have classes the next morning.

A few nights ago, I went to East Campus and witnessed a showering. About ten freshmen, males and females, were duct-taped together before they entered the shower stalls. They all seemed in good spirits and invited me to join them; I declined. Despite a few cries for liberation, the freshmen were all on good terms with the upperclassmen, who also got drenched in the process.

Is it absolutely necessary for upperclassmen to show their love for freshmen in such a fashion? Showering is definitely more healthy than handing them a can of beer. But why not take them out to play ultimate in the dark with a fluorescent disc, or go out for a quick game of volleyball? Exercise is the best and healthiest way to decrease stress and tension. Upperclassmen and freshmen could be separated into two teams and the team who wins can forfeit kitchen duty or cook the other team dinner for the rest of the week. Teamwork is a virtue that could be nurtured by these games. I'm sure that the game will just be as memorable as a run of water down the back or a forceful drag down the hall to the bathroom.

Showering freshman is an act in which the ones being showered have no control. Freshmen are showered whether they like it or not. Then again, who would want to be showered? Freshmen can evade capture in the libraries, by hiding under beds or by visiting their friends on other campuses, but why go through so much trouble to avoid a situation you know you can't change? The upperclassmen will probably shower you when you get back home later that night or when you finally decide to come out from under your bed.

Having an athletic activity gives freshmen a way out of the pressure from the upperclassmen right before a test. But what's in it for the upperclassmen? Will this be any fun for us? Well, we get to practice our athletic skills and take the opportunity to free our minds off of problem sets and test on Sunday night. And the best thing is that we can take our showers without the freshmen after the game.