Prank Wars

(9) Stink Bombs.jpg

About two months ago, Lawrence filed back to its hall after chapel only to find glitter and toilet paper strewn across the carpet, Nicolas Cage’s mug leering from every flat surface, and a poster of a naked, pregnant Beyoncé plastered on one student’s wall.  

Kool-aid and milk cascaded from the reservoir in Daniel Hogue’s showerhead while glue was slathered across the hall sign.  Lawrence—a hall that generally doesn’t participate in pranks—was not amused by this unwanted inconvenience, particularly with the recent stress caused by the 40-fall of hallmate, Matthew Gidney.  

“I understand the prank war mentality, but it seemed unnecessary and unwarranted,” said Oliver Beers, Lawrenconian. He claims that the havoc was wreaked by a few newcomers on Sutherland. “Tit-for-tat or expected pranks can actually be pretty fun,” he said, but he can see how these newcomers misunderstood.

Meanwhile, relics from male halls across campus have been steadily disappearing since September.  When Catacombs attempted to exact retribution on Sutherlands—home of the suspected thieves— with stink bombs, Sutherlandians brought the prank to the attention of the Dean of Student Life, Jonathan Ingraham.

According to one anonymous student, when he was brought in for an interview with Ingraham, it seemed apparent that the Dean had “already made a decision on hearsay.  Someone tells on you and there is not a chance to argue the case.”  He suggested that Ingraham implied that the case had “moral implications …you yourself are wrecking community.”

Since then, Ingraham has begun to “reiterate and remind” the Residence Staff of the guidelines for pranks in the Residence Hall Manual to make sure that RDs and RAs are aware of what pranks warrant community service hours. Written policies haven’t changed, but the interpretation of these rules have.

According to the manual, students must have “closed hall” pranks approved by their RD, but Ingraham encourages students to have all pranks approved.  Similarly, he prompts “students to not keep things longer than 24 hours… to help students discern the difference between pranking and theft.”

 Ingraham said that he doesn’t want to shut down pranks, but hopes that “things will be done in a good spirit and out of respect for community.”

Tim Stern, the R.A. of First Belz, said that the subject was brought up two weeks ago at a Residence Hall meeting. This was the first time he heard that the administration was earnestly persuading students to have their pranks approved.

Those outside of the Residence Staff have also noticed the shift in policy definition, and some feel that it threatens hall community and school traditions—particularly within an increasingly homogenized and politically correct world.

Ghetto veteran Jonah Paul is exasperated that despite Covenant’s rhetoric of community and friendship, the gradual shift toward controlled-pranking deflates hall spirit. “Hall life is actual community,” he said, explaining that students choose their hall based on tight-knit cultures and traditions—often reliant on pranks.  “That’s why people who come here.”

Cobi Boykin, another Ghetto veteran, is also concerned that increased restraint will lead to the disintegration of distinct hall cultures.  “Student development instills fear in the collective mind of the hall, which encourages a rogue few to go out and do something,” he said.

“Pranks and hall life could be a bit messy, but it can give students a chance to battle it out under Covenant’s supervisions instead of going elsewhere,” says Noah Pendergrass, a Covenant Alumnus and personal trainer, “it gives them an avenue for craziness.”  He claims that students will find more destructive outlets elsewhere if the restriction continues. “They’ve cut down on dances and hall life, and I believe this might be the last straw.”

Numerous students can recount prank stories passed down from parents and grandparents that attended Covenant.  According to Tim James, a senior Brethrenite, “it’s worth noting that when you talk to alumni, they remember good pranks over the chapel talks.”

James also believes that these pranking traditions have a purpose beyond tradition’s own sake.  “Catacombs plays an important role as the campus gadfly,” he said. “Sometimes they cross a line, but usually it’s because they’re making a point.”

However, for all of the benefits of pranking, Facilities has paid a hefty price in the aftermath of the recent storm of pranks.  Even seemingly harmless décor can prove difficult to clean-up.

“Glitter is the most evil thing in the history of evil,” says Facilities worker, Lauren Mawhinney.  “Even while you’re vacuuming, glitter will still be taunting you.”

“There’s a line, sure … a point where you want to be gracious to those cleaning up,” admitted an anonymous Catacombian. Boykin, on the other hand, claimed that it is the responsibility of the pranked or the prankers to swab up ground zero.

Many students strongly agree that there is an art to pranking.  Some pranks can go awry and emotionally or physically hurt students, but typically this can be avoided if one doesn’t target individuals or strangers.

“Pranking halls should be out of camaraderie,” said Stern. He suggested that halls that did not want to be involved could sign a petition of armistice.

“Pranks can be a creative, fun thing.  It brings spirit to a hall, and crosses a line only if something is ruined that’s irreplaceable or if a person is emotionally hurt,” says Calla McGinty.  “You only prank people you know.”

Stern also expressed his bewilderment that “the severity of the punishment for pranks is the same for drinking. That is kind of crazy to me.”