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Revisiting college jacks: Out of line and out of sync

By Roby Johnson     3/23/16 3:51pm

On Tuesday night of Willy Week, Brown College was jacked in a totally unacceptable manner. This “jack” involved putting sexual lubricant on the door handles throughout the Brown Tower and Quads, and though that was supposed to be it, several other acts occurred in conjunction with it. Such additional actions included a discharged fire extinguisher in stairwell B of the Brown Tower between the second and fourth floors, a damaged exit sign, damages to the Beer Bike float and a turned off light to the quad stairwell. The students involved in the additional actions were addressed and reprimanded, so with this appropriate action taken I wish to focus on the nature of the “jack” itself.

This “jack” is incredibly problematic for many reasons. First of all, the perpetrators never contacted Brown’s Jacks Coordinator, meaning this jack was never cleared according to policy. Of course, this raises concerns about general jack policy, but I shall return to this point later.

Second of all, this “jack” presents so many safety violations it is almost ludicrous to consider how this was even conceived as an appropriate prank. As was brought to my attention by several of my fellow Brownies, the doors were hard to grip due to the lube on them. The lube wasn’t merely on entrances to rooms, it was also on exits to the building itself. If an emergency happened we would have had obstacles to safe evacuation of the building. This was furthered by the discharged fire extinguisher in the stairwell. Visibility in the stairwell had been diminished, presenting a clear hazard to those traversing the stairs. In addition, there was a small panic about the potential toxicity of breathing in the extinguisher fumes — thank goodness our college president quickly contacted Housing and Dining and assured the safety of students who may have accidentally inhaled the fumes deemed to be nontoxic.



Expanding upon safety and H&D brings me to my third point: Responsibility for cleaning this defamation basically rested on the custodians at Brown. For no reason whatsoever should custodians be made to clean the messes of careless students. Their jobs are already tedious enough, and they already assume too much responsibility in cleaning up the wastes of O-Week, Baker 13, Beer Bike and public parties. Besides, it is the policy of jacks that those who commit them are responsible for cleaning them up in a timely manner, which won’t happen in this case since this “jack” presented safety and hygiene hazards.

OK, so what? Some people were stupid and made some mistakes. Why is this such a big deal? I strongly believe that this incident at Brown points to a larger problem on campus concerning the culture of jacks itself.

Of course, the context and facts surrounding the above incident could very likely change as we gather more details about how and why it occurred from those who committed it, meaning this could very well not be representative of other jacks at Rice. However, the culture of jacks on campus has fundamental issues, and this incident highlights these issues.

The policy for jacks is very loose, if almost entirely nonexistent. Rice administration doesn’t approve of or facilitate jacks. Instead, jacks policy is decided, agreed upon and wielded by the Beer Bike coordinators and the ordained jacks coordinators of each college. I don’t mean these people any disservice — they take on large responsibilities involving creativity, communication and mass coordination between parties. But the policies used in their current nature leave discrepancies and large potential for misunderstandings, which result in jacks that are seen less as fun pranks and more as distracting, potentially harmful nuisances.

Perhaps the largest issue here is that the colleges uphold these policies to different standards and in differing ways. Clearly, communication and approval from the college meant to be jacked in the above case was disregarded or forgotten. There are glaring disparities in the prioritizations of each college in this regard, and not just concerning this incident, or this year, but past years as well.

Furthermore, I feel that there are many differing ways students are currently interpreting what jacks are supposed to be, look like and symbolize. Jacks can take many different forms and are supposed to be made in jest of our culture of residential college competition. But how do we determine what constitutes a jack versus a distasteful prank? How do we determine what is acceptable? How do we discern the meanings of jacks when so many over time have been reacted to as insults rather than endearing hilarities? The contexts of Beer Bike or O-Week are simply not enough.

I encourage the Student Association to deliberate upon and invent proper, campus-wide policies for jacks (or, if they somehow exist, revise them and make them more salient). As a Brown 2016 O-Week coordinator, I have already wished to revisit the purposes and performances of jacks and how they contribute to Rice culture. I am highly troubled by the harm wreaked on our environments, interactions and the resulting vitriol from students when jacks go sour.

I want jacks to be fun, inclusive and more visible, especially since I view them as a way of combatting the intense problems associated with campus apathy. By no means do I intend to condemn them or those who perform them. However, though jacks have come a long way from the hazing-saturated and vandalism-riddled past of Rice, jacks are in need of reformation to align with the climate we want for our students. We have the student resources and creativity to further improve campus culture and decrease student apathy. Why not start here?

Roby Johnson is a Brown College junior.



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