Community PSA oversaturation

By Hank Hansen

The slogan “If you see something, say something” was first employed by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Agency before being adopted by the Department of Homeland Security as a “public awareness campaign… [designed] to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime, and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper local law enforcement authorities.” To some, this original mission statement relies on a rather amorphous idea of “suspicious activity” and could, depending on interpretation, be used to justify excessive vigilance. All the same, the campaign emerged in the post-9/11 era and, despite its critics, seemed to address a universal desire for security. However, thanks to a series of troubling PSAs in our beloved Daily Piper, “If you see something, say something” has become a trivialized and distressingly counter-productive catchphrase on the Macalester campus. There have been several “If you see something” entries that have struck me as questionable, but for me the most frustrating one yet was this gem, from the November 1 edition of the Piper: “You see a student bringing marijuana and a pipe to an off-campus event hosted by Program Board. Ask a question, tell a staff member, or contact the on-site security. Community Matters.” First of all, marijuana is a non-addictive recreational drug that, although it is still federally outlawed, was just legalized in both Washington state and Colorado (and is already legal for medicinal purposes in several others). But this is beside the point. Are we as students not capable of conflict resolution amongst ourselves? The hypothetical student described above might simply need a friendly reminder to be more discreet and/or responsible, but instead this PSA promotes immediately contacting security as a reasonable way of addressing what really is a non-issue. What danger could potheads possibly represent that necessitates notifying the whole student body to be on the lookout for them? And why promote something as divisive as encouraging students to police those with lifestyle choices other than their own? Marijuana users pose no threat to themselves or others, and it is really nothing short of absurd to make them the subject of a campus-wide bulletin. I also find it troubling that the “If you see something” campaign at Macalester has lumped such an unrelated assortment of campus issues under the same misguided banner. Consider that the October 23 Piper contained the following message: “You see an acquaintance stuffing bunches of bananas into a bag in Café Mac. Ask a question, tell a staff member, or call security. Community Matters.” Now, I’m definitely not encouraging theft (although the lines blur somewhat in the context of all-you-can-eat dining facility) but does anyone really think calling security is an appropriate response to fruit looting? Personally, I value our security guards far too much to trivialize their role on campus by asking them to patrol the exit of our cafeteria. Most of all though, using the “If you see something” banner to crusade against the pursuit of dorm munchies by hungry froshes does little more than diminish the impact of the sporadic instances when the campaign actually brings attention to situations that merit increased awareness. I’m thinking in particular of the Daily Piper from October 30, which read: “You see one of your floormates throwing up in the bathroom after having too much to drink. Tell a staff member or call security. Community Matters.” This is the kind of reminder that absolutely ought to be disseminated to the Macalester community. Drinking is common on our campus whether we like it or not, so reminding students to look after those who have overindulged is certainly worthwhile. This PSA, unlike the others, encourages us to use the resources available to us (staff and security) in a constructive way that has the best interests of our peers in mind, instead of in a way that promotes the unnecessary persecution of students who make marginally illegal decisions. It is truly a shame that the authors of the “If you see something” PSAs, whether intentionally or not, have put fruit theft and student health on the same plane of priorities. To be honest, I’m puzzled why anyone at Macalester felt the need to appropriate a Homeland Security catchphrase in the first place, no matter how good their intentions may have been. In the wake of such a decision, I can only hope that if the “If you see something” campaign does continue, it will focus on issues that foster the improvement rather than the division of the Macalester student body. We deserve nothing less, and should not hesitate to “say something” about it if necessary. refresh –>