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Fences Can Stop Sheep, But Not Humans

Tao Yue

Last Friday, a photo appeared in The Tech. A photo of a sign in a construction area near McCormick, on the back of which a student had written “We Are Not Sheep!” But, to my disappointment, the caption gave only the barest overview of the background behind the sign.

It’s actually quite an interesting story, even if only because I’m finding random things to be increasingly funny as the end of the term comes and finals approach.

Quite a while ago, construction started in the area between McCormick and Kresge. Cordons and signs were put up to reroute pedestrian traffic around the construction.

Some time later, the entire north side of the Amherst sidewalk was cordoned off. This made things quite frustrating for West Campus residents, as most people were used to taking a slight shortcut across Kresge Oval to reach Mass. Ave. right at the Building 7 crosswalk. With this route blocked off, the easiest way to reach Mass. Ave. was by walking along the south sidewalk of Amherst Street, a route about forty-five seconds longer at an average MIT student’s walking pace.

But we MIT students are pressed for time. Forty-five seconds is still forty-five seconds that didn’t need to be wasted.

There was another reason that the blocking of the sidewalk annoyed us: there was really no reason for it to be blocked off.

I discovered that one day before the Thanksgiving break, I was walking absent-mindedly southward on the paved area in front of Kresge. Forgetting that the sidewalk was blocked off, I ran smack into the construction area. Not wanting to head back to Mass. Ave. just to walk westward again, I descended the stairs surrounding Kresge, walked across the lawn, found a gap in the hedges, and crossed the construction tape.

This immediately drew the attention of the Kresge parking lot attendant, who asked me, “Why did you cross that tape?” I explained that I was already in the cordoned-off area, so obviously the thing to do was to leave that area immediately. “Yeah, but how the hell did you get there in the first place?” Very simple: I walked. I walked without crossing any construction tape, without violating any signs, without going anywhere I shouldn’t.

And so, I realized the insanity of the situation we were in. The lawn behind Kresge is reachable from the north and the east, but is blocked from the south. And the parking lot attendant would get mad at you even if you reached that location from the northeast.

I had no desire to annoy the parking lot attendant, so for the next few days I made sure to steer clear of the area.

But when I came back from Thanksgiving Break, I saw that someone else had also realized the craziness of the situation. One of the signs directing pedestrians eastward had been turned around, and the words “We Are Not Sheep!” was written on the sign. The traffic cones holding up the caution netting were overturned, and the way was free once again.

I felt like congratulating whoever did it. He or she expressed the frustrations of us all.

But I also knew it wouldn’t last. And sure enough, the traffic cones were back upright, the sign was turned back around, and the way was blocked again.

Then followed a game between the students and whoever was maintaining the blocking system. The next day, the sign was back around and the way was clear. Then, realizing that simply restoring the situation wasn’t going to be permanent, a wooden fence was installed in the row of hedges.

But the students -- humans, not sheep, and please remember that -- weren’t to be stopped. The sign was back, the cones were down, and the fence was broken apart, its pieces scattered around the lawn.

This, apparently, caused the maintainer of the blockage to give up. The sign was turned back around to hide the ignominy of defeat, while the cones remained down, the fence did not come back, and the way stood clear.

This is the term where a mandatory meal plan was proposed yet again and the Dean of Admissions wrote about students in extremely condescending terms. Neither of them, by themselves, were that bad. Both could have been discussed civilly had they been civil to us. However, the meal plan was sprung on us without warning, and the article was hidden in the faculty newsletter and referred to students as little more than children, making insultingly sweeping generalizations.

The sign may have manifested frustrations about construction, but that’s not all. We’ve had construction all around us. Senior House residents have had to listen to a building being torn down in front of them. Bexley residents, in addition to the traffic, have had to listen to heavy machinery as the asphalt of Mass. Ave. was torn and replaced as the pipes down below were refitted. And all of us have found familiar routes blocked.

The sign also represents our other frustrations. The meal plan. The Marilee Jones article. The increasing of tensions and the piling up of work as the end of the term approaches. And finally, this. Construction-related blockades are one thing, but this blockade didn’t even need to be there. And while I have no idea who actually decided to act and clear the way for students, I’ll bet that was a part of it. We all get frustrated with MIT once in a while. It’s part of life, part of IHTFP. But to add more frustrations than are really needed -- well, that’s just gratuitous.