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The Errors of Irresponsible Journalism

Erica Pfister

Columns in The Tech have rarely left me wondering how we could have considered material worthy of publication. Even when the topics range to subjects as unusual as Student Center "express" elevators or the shorts-wearing habits of a Tech staffer, I welcome the columnist's departure from the typical serious analysis of politics and policies.

This past Tuesday, however, my expectant hopes for more light reading in the column by Elaine Y. Wan '01 ["For a Kinder Freshman Initiation", Sept. 29] were dashed by the third paragraph when Irealized she was completely serious. As Icontinued to read through all fifteen inches of diatribe, Ibecame more and more surprised.

At this point I'm going to provide my own caveat:I've never been showered or showered other people. Luckily for you, however, that's not my topic of discussion; irresponsible columnists are. And calling for end to freshman showering in the manner that Wan did simply screams of irresponsibility. She admits that she has not had any experience with the showering phenomenon personally aside from her East Campus witness, yet "one can only guess that being distracted by an unexpected spurt of violence is a bit more than irritating."

Like any activity, showering must have its varied merits and drawbacks. Its prevalence and intensity also range widely around campus; my floor almost never forcibly showers residents, others shower on the night before the Physics I(8.01) exam, others shower for occasions such as birthdays or mass boredom. Freshman are not the primary targets either.

On most levels Ido agree that showering isn't the greatest activity in the world. Cooking or something athletic is more human and healthy; floors would be cleaner and students would be healthier. But it's not like these interactions don't exist at all; there are innumerable situations outside of the bathroom where upperclassmen and freshmen interact.

Wan rather ignorantly called freshman showering a hazing phenomenon. The act of hazing requires that members of a group harass or humiliate those who wish to join that group; it is almost impossible to define showering that way. Freshmen are not required to undergo showering in order to obtain a room in a dormitory or fraternity, although many current residents doubtlessly prefer some measure of personal hygiene. Freshmen aren't required to undergo a showering in order for them to pass the 8.01 test that occurred Monday, or to become upperclassmen, or to have the opportunity to shower others. Hazing?I don't think so.

With a bit of thought, however, forced showering can be considered as assault. A freshman is sitting in his or her room cramming when a group of older students bursts in, forcibly removes him or her from his or her room, and thoroughly soaks him or her in the communal bathing area. Injuries sustained in such an activity could easily be classified as assault and charges could be pressed.

I digress, however; I've wandered into my own diatribe. If this activity is so fraught with potentially sour outcomes, why can't Wan present us with even one example of an accident report or an unhappy freshman? Such a dire accusation requires some amount of support or an example, or it deserves as much attention as the supporters of a flat-earth theory receive. Even though she has never personally showered or been showered, there must be an example of an injury or an "electrical problem" caused by this ritual.

The one example Wan offers, however, is a showering she recently witnessed at East Campus. She states that the group was "all on good terms" and "seemed in good spirits," yet in the very next paragraph frowns once again at the method in which the participants chose to express their camaraderie. This example, apparently meant to show the evils of the showering practice, runs entirely contrary to her argument.

But overall, the worst problem with Wan's column is the fact that this one example is actually false. The students who had been "duct-taped together before they entered the shower stalls" weren't freshman. They were actually upperclassmen about to be showered by the freshmen.

Perhaps if she had bothered to ask a few questions of this group of people she would have learned what was going on, and hopefully been shown that there is more to the world of showering than she had initially presumed. Many other members of The Tech's staff had no problems finding out the actual events of that evening, and we weren't even present. In fact, it was a fairly minor piece of knowledge to us; however, if we had been writing a opinion column on the topic of showering, it would be an extremely important fact to know.

Irresponsible journalistic practice such as not researching a topic is just as reprehensible as falsifying facts or stories. It's fine for the opinion pages to bring up topics for discussion that disturb people into talking about them, and if Wan wants to have any sort of positive effect on the MITcommunity as she seemed to be hoping, she had better learn to convince with real data rather than unsubstantiated rantings.