November 14, 2013
When rumor first spread that an unnamed individual tore the door off of the late-night Jitney, the obvious question was: Who is this individual with superhuman strength, and how can we put him or her to better use? While it turns out that the Jitney did not lose an entire door—though a series of incidents caused roughly $1,000 worth of damage to the vehicle—a greater discussion has begun about the interplay between excessive drinking, the downtown scene and Hamilton-provided transportation.
The immediate issue at hand is, in the words of Associate Dean of Students for Student Engagement and Leadership Lisa Magnarelli ’96, “a rise in disruptive and destructive behavior on the late night Jitney.” Besides the door damage, Jitney drivers often deal with vomiting on the bus, intense shoving matches to secure seats and occasional verbal issue of either the driver or the ride-along. These complaints have sometimes led to an unexpected cancellation of late-night Jitney service and, in turn, an increased potential for drunk driving.
On the one hand, the obvious response is to punish those students who are responsible for the most serious offenses. The administration’s decision to use yellow school buses with cameras on them serves as a fair way to hold individuals accountable for destructive behavior. Moreover, using vehicles larger than the traditional Jitney is a good way to reduce “bus mobbing” and drunk driving; the transportation supply should aim to match the demand of students going downtown. The administration could also consider starting the downtown-only Jitney service earlier than midnight to equalize the outgoing flow of students.
The larger question, though, is why so many students are going downtown each weekend. An excess of students in the Village of Clinton has exacerbated the normal Jitney problems. Part of the excess stems from Greek societies holding activities off-campus to avoid dealing with punishments for drinking with underage students. Part of the excess also stems from bars not checking IDs thoroughly and serving alcohol to large numbers of underage students. And the last part of this excess stems from a dearth of all-campus parties.
Hamilton cannot change two of those factors: the bars are outside the school’s purview and off-campus housing, typically populated by Greek societies, is going off-line by 2015. The administration could help increase the number of all-campus parties by ensuring more social spaces with alcohol are open on the weekends, but, at the end of the day, student organizations—both Greeks and non-Greeks—need to take it upon themselves to host all-campus parties to the extent possible.
We must also keep in mind that, despite a relative increase in students going downtown, the vast majority of students still find plenty of enjoyment on the Hill during the weekend. Above all, regardless of whether changes are made to mitigate the problems associated with a downtown drinking scene, it is up to us—the students—to respect the Jitney driver, the ride-along and public property. It is embarrassing that Ms. Magnarelli has to tell us to form straight lines, to not smoke on the Jitney and to not stand in front of a moving vehicle. If we’re old enough to not ride on a yellow bus to school every day, perhaps we should start acting like it.
At Hamilton, just like in the real world, public transportation is a privilege and not a right. We can certainly offer suggestions to improve that transportation and the surrounding drinking culture, but we in turn need to respect the distinction between privileges and rights.