In a baffling move, Gustavus pushishes first-years for things that they did

Jonas Doerr Opinion Columnist

Gusties have been doing some awful, awful things. Or so it would seem, since they are being denied basic rights given even to prisoners of war. They are doing awful things like leaving their garbage in the bathroom and stealing exit signs – truly despicable. Clearly the hoodlums causing this mischief deserve to be punished, but the way it happens is terrifying.
In both instances, a large number of people were threatened with punishment even though most of them were innocent. An entire floor was faced with a fine if garbage kept appearing in the bathroom instead of the dumpster where it belonged. Even though all the dutiful students who took their trash outside already had to suffer by smelling rotting food every time they chose to brush their teeth, they now had to pay a fine on top of that. Last year an exit sign was stolen in Co-Ed. Even though their safety had already been endangered by the removal of the sign, all the guiltless residents would have paid a fine along with any guilty residents except that the culprit was barely found. And now this year fines were actually collected from Co-Ed residents due to damages caused by a small group of people. There is a long history of fining victims along with culprits at Gustavus.
The worst part of it all is that this type of punishment is not even allowed for prisoners of war. The Geneva Conventions were several international gatherings where most countries agreed on a set of boundaries to protect certain people during wartime. The rules included protecting hospitals and Red Cross personnel as well as strict limits for treatment of prisoners. Rule 103 of the conventions says that, “No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible.” What this means is that it is forbidden to punish a group of people for the actions of a small number of people when it cannot be shown that the group is just as responsible for the wrongdoing. It also specifically mentions monetary punishments (that’s what pecuniary means), which is directly related to what Gustavus has been doing to students.
It is ridiculous that Gustavus is doing something to students that cannot be done to prisoners of war. Students are paying thousands of dollars to be at Gustavus, and yet their basic rights are taken away? Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? An entire dormitory of people is presumed to be guilty since it is not proven that they weren’t a thief or vandal?
Imagine a murder scene for a moment. A large number of people attend a dinner party. Someone slips poison into the host’s drink, and he dies. The police arrive at the scene and cannot even determine a single suspect, so they arrest every guest at the party, dozens in all. The police demand that someone confess or reveal who did it or else everyone will split the penalty of a lifetime sentence, leading to two years in prison for everyone. No one confesses, and they are all imprisoned.
Of course, the stakes are higher in this hypothetical, but is it otherwise any different from what is happening at Gustavus? People cannot be punished without any evidence of guilt. It is ludicrous, unjust, and unethical.
Certainly, Gustavus has few choices to deal with these situations. They perhaps see it as the only alternative to letting a criminal walk free. Maybe they do not plan on receiving the fine most of the time because they hope that someone will turn in the hoodlum. Maybe anger at the disrespectful acts of some students cause the school to take measures it otherwise would not.
Nevertheless, it is better to be just and let a hundred criminals get away than to be unjust and catch every single one. Gustavus proudly displays “Justice” on its walls as a core value yet neglects it towards its own students. Gustavus needs to refine its policies because while these fines may be fine for its finances they are not fine with supporters of justice within its confines.

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