Rachel Harvey / The Silhouette
Every year at the end of March, fourth-year undergraduates in McMaster’s Engineering program celebrate their graduation by designing an on-campus prank, fondly called The Kipling Prank. Previous years have included stunts such as filling a hallway with balloons, or creating a giant castle out of red solo cups. This year, however, the campus was subjected to a prank that was anything but funny.
A group of graduating students constructed an elaborate maze that everyone walking on the pathway between Gilmour Hall and University Hall on Friday had no choice but to maneuver their way through. While I have to admit that their design was impressive, the maze presented a major ethical problem: taped up along the makeshift walls were pictures of Engineering faculty members with derogatory nicknames displayed under each photo.
The obstructive nature of the maze made it necessary to view every single photo and nickname as you made your way through its contained paths. Nicknames such as Dr. “Master” Baetz and Michael “Penetration Butt Weld” Tait were displayed for every maze-walker to see. While the terms in quotations are specific to the field of Engineering, the problem arises from the obvious manipulation of these terms to signify something sexually derogatory. This is compounded by the fact that they were posted in a public space where “non-Engineering” students and faculty may not be “in on the joke.”
When asked why they would put up these rude pictures, a few Engineering students who lingered near the maze stated, “it’s just a tradition,” or “it’s just a joke, we do it every year” (or my personal favourite, “I didn’t do it,” as if that absolves them of responsibility). Perhaps it’s time to ask why and how their “tradition” can be used to justify their actions.
According to the McMaster University Engineering Alumni website, there is a ceremony every year called The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, where new graduates are bestowed with iron rings.
The Kipling prank seems to be an offshoot of this “ritual.”
The Ritual ceremony was originally sanctioned by none other than Rudyard Kipling, the man George Orwell fondly described as “the prophet of British Imperialism.”
Perhaps the long-reaching arm of Imperialism can be glimpsed in the actions of the Kipling Prank students, who neglected to critically consider the consequences of their maze. The construction of a maze that blocks off a main campus pathway to anyone with disabilities and publically displays demeaning comments about faculty members certainly does seem to be doing the work of colonization by privileging the Engineering pranksters at the expense of others. Maybe it’s time for The Ritual to focus more on the promotion of social consciousness rather than on “a consciousness of their profession.”
Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this into a postcolonial rant on the problems surrounding The Ritual and by extension The Kipling Prank, because I probably just don’t understand The Ritual of the Iron Ring. After all, I’m just a silly Humanities student who keeps picturing Gollum and Lord Sauron. One ring to rule them all.
Besides, Wikipedia tells me that the iron rings are meant to represent the moral, ethical and professional commitment of new Engineers. So, that means that once these pranksters receive their rings, they’ll be more considerate, right?
Interestingly, the mysterious students who created the maze of shame left a calling card at the scene: a huge ring covered in aluminum foil hanging from the arches over the maze.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t set out to pick on the Engineering department as a whole. I know several McMaster Engineering students who are lovely, socially responsible people. However, there is something rotten in Denmark if there is an entire webpage on the McMaster Alumni site dedicated to posting pictures of Kipling Pranks. While there are no pictures of this year’s yet, time will surely tell what the departmental reaction was to the maze of shame. I know I was quite amazed to see that they’re holding a contest for students to enter Kipling Prank photos for a chance to win $500. Pranking, in general, is definitely encouraged.
While tradition in and of itself is not necessarily negative, it’s always important to evaluate why we do what we do and what the consequences are.
The Case of The Kipling Prank Gone Wrong provides us with an opportunity to re-evaluate a tradition that could really use an upgrade.
To the students who designed the maze of shame, shame on you. If you needed to express your frustrations with the faculty, you should’ve gone to the gym, or the bar, or built a castle out of red solo cups. You shouldn’t have made rude, public comments about your professors. Because it’s not funny. The only joke here is you.