November 14, 2013
Jitney culture an issue, cameras not solution
The issue of privacy is in the forefront of national debate with the NSA’s contentious call tracking program taking center stage. On the Hill, the idea of installing cameras on the late night Jitney seems to be fueling Hamilton’s own discussion of privacy rights.
I would like to first acknowledge the motive for installing cameras. As someone who rides the late night Jitney downtown almost every weekend, I can attest to the strange behavior that precipitates as soon as the Jitney pulls up to Sadove circle. When trying to get on the Jitney, I usually end up fleeing from a shoving and pushing crowd that, during the daytime, I consider my astute and mannerly peers. Needless to say, an unusually aggressive culture surrounds the Jitney.
After the Jitney underwent costly damage last weekend, the administration decided surveillance cameras were the solution to resolving this behavior. Not only do these cameras present scores of foreseeable privacy infringements and a giant legal headache—they might not even be the solution to Jitney aggression.
It seems like personal and public lives constantly overlap in college. Just think about the students who sleep in science labs while wearing their favorite flannel pajamas. As the line between personal and academic life is abated, the notion of privacy is left in the shadows. For example, deciding to ride the Jitney downtown on a Saturday night is part of students’ personal lives. While it intersects with academic life, because the Jitney is a school service, the Jitney is hardly the place for academically based surveillance. When students’ personal lives are monitored by the school, privacy rights are majorly impacted. The merging of personal and academic lives should not go as far as surveilling social activities.
At this point in the argument, most defenders of privacy rights would succumb to the exasperating logic of questioning “what’s next,” eventually leading to ridiculous hypotheticals. Rather, I ask not “what” but where these tapes will be stored. Ultimately, these recordings will be stored in the place that is essential to my career and post-grad life—my college. I shudder at the image of a Jitney conversation filed next to my thesis or resume. I question who will have access to these tapes and when the use of a Jitney tape is warranted for use of evidence in an allegation, concerning a Jitney event or not. These concerns couple my discomfort with having my personal life on record at all. I am not okay with the idea of my personal college night life being recorded, and I don’t think the administration would have been too keen on this either when they were in college.
If accurate information about Jitney damage is the issue here, I wonder what makes the Jitney different from any other place on campus susceptible to possible damage. Information is usually brought forth by student witnesses or the offender themselves. In the case of the Jitney, students who witness destruction will most likely be willing to provide information, especially if it means protecting Jitney privileges for themselves and other students. Further, the installation of cameras may record all the wrong things, since the destruction usually happens outside the Jitney. First hand accounts might be the only viable sources of information. Instead of the college playing Big Brother, it seems like the community of students is capable of imposing the Big Brother phenomenon on itself.
Finally, I want to point out why the aggressive Jitney culture might exist. The usual Jitney van simply does not have enough room to fit all the cold students waiting outside Sadove. If enough spots were guaranteed, the mad frenzy to get on the bus would not exist. The pushing and shoving would be irrelevant if everyone knew they would eventually get on the bus and not have to wait another half hour in the cold. I understand the administration is exasperated with Jitney behavior but instead of taking a defensive approach, offensive strategizing might prove more beneficial. The Jitney is evidently in such strong demand that students are shoving into the door to secure a spot. Perhaps a larger van or second Jitney is needed. Whatever the solution, the privacy of students’ personal lives aside from school should not be jeopardized.
Cameras on Jitney not a student privacy invasion
An important discussion on the appropriate balance between privacy and security is currently taking place on a national scale. Now, Hamilton has the opportunity to join this discussion at a community level with recent changes in Jitney policy.
In a Nov. 7 email to all Hamilton students, Associate Dean of Students for Student Engagement and Leadership Lisa Magnarelli ’96 stated the Jitney, responsible for shuttling students from Sadove Circle to Downtown Clinton during late night hours on weekends, would not be running after it sustained $1000 in damage the previous weekend.
The email discussed additional changes to the Jitney service, including the replacement of the comfortable coach shuttle bus with a yellow school bus “equipped with cameras so that we (the administration) may hold individuals responsible for their actions.”
The knowledge that all activity on the Jitney would be recorded on camera and that administrators would have the opportunity to play back those tapes came as a shock to many students. Some may have even felt that the cameras, to some degree, violated their privacy as students at Hamilton, a campus that has very few surveillance cameras.
Sure, the administration is watching, but who cares? Holding yourself accountable for your actions is the basis of being a good person and constructive member of any community, especially the Hamilton Community.
The Hamilton College Code of Student Conduct also bans destructive, abusive and reckless behavior directed at people or property. It is clear these cameras are meant to serve as a deterrent only.
No one will stay up all night on the weekend monitoring and recording everyone who uses the Jitney. The footage from the cameras will be used to determine who is a responsible for inappropriate actions.
Furthermore, the argument that the cameras are an invasion of students’ privacy is invalid because the Jitney is openly public.
When a student makes the decision to leave the privacy of his or her room and participates in any activity, students open themselves up to the public sphere where others observe their behavior. This is a fact of life.If the College announced it was placing security cameras in dorm rooms, restrooms or other primarily private locations, then students would have a valid complaint.
On the Jitney, however, the College has a right to protect its property. Property paid for by all students’ tuition and the generous donations of parents and Alumni.
Hamilton has a prerogative to serve students’ needs to venture off campus. The Jitney service supports a symbiotic relationship between students and the College. Students can explore Clinton’s vibrant ‘nightlife’ while Clinton and the College may avoid the possibility of drunk driving.
If students do not want the school recording them participating in destructive behavior, they should not engage in destructive behavior.
In most situations, there is an abundant need to have a discussion on the balance between privacy and security. This is not one of those times.
The Hamilton College Administration’s decision to use a Jitney service with security cameras is in the best interest of all students who choose to venture down the Hill and into Clinton.