A student unscrewed lightbulbs multiple times in Kennedy Hall elevators, according to a Nov. 19 email to Kennedy residents from Residential Living. Instead of finding and punishing the student responsible, Georgetown threatened to fine hundreds of students in the residence hall.

The university’s current system of collective punishment — in which damage to community spaces is billed to all residents of the community — is lazy and ineffective, punishing innocent students and rewarding the perpetrators. To actually increase student accountability and foster more respect for shared spaces, Georgetown must stop relying on collective punishment to administer university policy.

Georgetown has been quick to implement communitywide fines for years. After four chairs in the Henle Village common space were stolen in December 2016, residents were charged a total of $2,234.08 just 12 days after the theft; each individual resident was fined $5.28. Similarly, after historic photos from Darnall Hall’s lobby disappeared in March 2018, each student was charged $1.01 after seven days.

The university has demonstrated a trend of charging students mere days after an incident, hardly enough time to conduct a thorough investigation. By correcting housing procedures, the university could also signal to students that it is concerned with more than making its money back.

Though the amount charged to each individual may be small, communitywide fines are unfair to innocent residents. To practice a system of justice, Georgetown should instead find and charge the perpetrator the full value of the damage.

Moreover, collective punishment fails to adequately discipline students who actually do violate university policies. Currently, a student can steal a chair and enjoy the benefits, while the punishment is diluted across the residential community. The thief or vandal may not even belong to the residential community: Any person who strolled through Georgetown’s gates could have stolen the Henle chairs, and yet the university lazily assumed assumed the guilt of Henle residents and laid the punishment at their feet.

Georgetown should focus on finding and punishing the perpetrator rather than penalizing the entire community after a couple of emails. Such a policy would discourage — rather than potentially incite — these problematic behaviors.

Removal of communitywide fines would also increase the incentive for the Georgetown University Police Department and administration officials to thoroughly investigate each incident. Georgetown’s policies ensure property value is restored to the university by innocent students already paying for room and board. Without this assurance, however, Georgetown would have motivation to conduct a more comprehensive investigation.

To maintain student accountability and foster respect for community spaces, the university must remove communitywide fines.

Though a proper investigation would likely incur more time and resources, such a system is necessary to ensure vandalism and theft are curbed. Moreover, enforcing order and safety is the purpose of GUPD; demanding that the university rely on police investigation to catch a criminal rather than punishing innocents is not unreasonable.

While communitywide fines may incentivize students to turn in the perpetrator, this result could be accomplished through rewards for information rather than fining students who were likely unaware of the incident for failing to provide information.

Georgetown’s implementation of collective punishment is lazy and unjust. If the university seeks to reduce vandalism or theft, it must end communitywide fines.

Georgetown should punish the person unscrewing the lightbulbs rather than the residents using the pitch-black elevator.

The Hoya’s editorial board is composed of six students and chaired by the opinion editor. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.

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