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A Showering Solution

Veena Thomas

Freshman shower night, traditionally the evening before the first 8.01 exam, is one of those vaunted MIT traditions passed down through the years. On the night in question, upperclassmen throw freshmen, kicking and screaming, into a waiting shower. Upon emerging, drenched, the freshmen attempt to retaliate against the upperclassmen by forcing them into the shower. In the end, some are happy, some are miserable, and everyone ends up wet and cold.

Like many of those other vaunted traditions held in such high esteem by MIT students, shower night has fallen under criticism by the administration. Refreshingly, however, the criticism came as an attempt to curtail a truly dangerous situation before it happens. Burton-Conner Housemaster Halston Taylor sent an e-mail to Burton-Conner residents, Dean of Student Life Larry Benedict, and others, explaining that no longer would he permit the level of property destruction and violence that has occurred in Burton-Conner in previous years.

Much of the problem stems from an inability to restrict the activity to inside the showers. Some dorms, particularly Burton-Conner, extend the showering into “rivering.” In effect bringing the shower to those who resist, upperclassmen drench protesting freshmen with a very large bucket of water. Since rivering in the bathrooms would be pointless, it always occurs in an area inadequately prepared for dealing with water, such as the lounges, hallways, or dorm rooms. Burton-Conner has reportedly suffered thousands of dollars in damage from such practices, particularly in recent years. In addition, escalating levels of injuries made it clear that some action needed to be taken shortly.

No doubt afraid that this year’s situation would worsen, Taylor met with the Dean’s Office to draw up a policy modification for shower night. What makes Taylor’s actions and the policy so impressive is his desire to maintain the spirit of shower night, while making it safer and nondestructive. Unlike other policies drafted with no regard as to the students, the regulations for shower night retain the fundamental elements of the night -- the policy still allows showering -- while banning the excessiveness of recent years. The Burton-Conner ExecComm approved the policy for Burton-Conner the evening before shower night, perhaps convincing Larry Benedict to avoid taking immediate action, such as banning shower night altogether, and leave it to individual dorms to police themselves. Currently, no campus-wide policy for shower night exists.

I’ve personally never been one for shower night. Freshman year I was genuinely scared -- “You’re going to what with me? Because I’m a freshman?” I could only imagine all thirty residents of my floor bribing one of my roommates to let them into my room, and then storming in to haul me away from my problem set, dragging me down the hallway, before hurling me into the shower. I was sure I would emerge broken-boned, bloodied, and embarrassed to tell my parents what had happened to me. Me, get showered? No way. I promptly added my name to the “Do Not Shower” list my GRT kindly provided, with the promise that those people on the list would not be permitted to be showered. Confident that I would escape unharmed, I then went to hang out with my friends in another dorm.

I mistakenly believed that each hall was only interested in showering its own residents. However, when the burly upperclassman guys came knocking on the door, I realized that they were after any freshman in the vicinity, regardless of official address. My freshman friends, all guys, didn’t really mind being showered, though they put up a fight anyway. Luckily they understood my reluctance to be thrown in the shower, and they hid me in the closet, claiming to the showerers that they were unaware of my whereabouts. Huddled in the closet, terrified someone would find me as they searched the room, and listening to the screams down the hall, I wondered why there wasn’t a better system of protecting students.

I understand that shower night is a way for everyone to blow off some steam and relieve the stress of the term. However, I do not believe shower night as it stands is the best method. Some people genuinely do not mind being showered, and for those people, shower night should continue. Yet there are many who loathe the idea of being showered, and MIT policy should protect them.

Misuse of shower night can be a very real possibility. Women wonder if guys throw them into the shower simply to see them in a wet T-shirt. Shower night can be a display of dominance, as upperclassman show the freshmen who’s in charge. Often a display can be taken to an extreme. As a barely-five-foot tall woman, there’s something really sick and disturbing to me about the thought of a bunch of huge guys physically grabbing me and forcefully throwing me into the shower. Anyone who takes pleasure in ganging up on someone half his or her size, especially a group of guys preying on one girl, should be ashamed of themselves.

For some, shower night is simply a night of good clean fun, a tradition to be celebrated. I will not attempt to convert my personal dislike of shower night into a blanket ban for all. This is why I admire the new Burton-Conner policy -- it protects everyone from unwanted showering by requiring the express permission of anyone prior to showering. While this may seem odd -- a group of upperclassman knocking on freshmen’s doors asking politely, “Can we shower you?” -- there’s an easy solution. Like my floor does every year, post a “Do Not Shower” list in the hallway. People who have added their names to the list are not allowed to be showered.

Everyone not on the list is assumed to have given their implicit permission to be showered. This avoids the confusion present in the midst of showering -- does someone screaming really not want to be showered, or are they just playing along? Freshmen not on the list can try to scheme to outsmart the upperclassmen and avoid being showered, while not minding if they actually are showered. It’s all part of the game.

The removal of extreme actions like rivering or drenching other living groups from Burton-Conner’s shower night serves to reinforce, rather than weaken, the tradition. Everyone can have fun while knowing they will remain safe and protected from undue harm. In addition, restricting showering to the bathrooms allows everyone to live in a clean, dry environment free of water damage, and prevents a living group from being destroyed by outsiders. Is anyone really in favor of vast property damage?

Therefore, I urge the administration to seriously consider adopting a campus-wide Burton-Conner-style policy regarding shower night. Halston Taylor admirably decided to protect his dorm residents proactively from a night whose hazing nature is questionable, while still allowing its spirit to continue. The restrictions made are certainly reasonable -- and hopefully will be sufficient to prevent a ban of shower night altogether. Perhaps the action of drafting a sensible policy to prevent serious problems before they occur will set a precedent for others to follow.