Toilet paper stranded on trees, porta-potties stationed in front of Wengatz doors, relics stolen from wings throughout the year: a sample of the pranks threaded into the fabric of Taylor’s intentional community.
Many of these pranks are relatively harmless — a reminder that pranking in and of itself is not inherently bad.
“I think healthy pranks lend a healthy amount of value … (a prank) pushes people's creativity when it's done in a healthy and helpful and not a harmful way,” Wengatz Hall Director Jacob Gerding said.
When carried out carefully, pranks have the potential to bring some measure of joy and build camaraderie.
Special Assistant to the President Ron Sutherland notes that, on a base level, pranks can also be considered an expression of the community built on Taylor’s campus.
“...at some level the joy of community life often spills out into activities that create community and a fun atmosphere,” Sutherland said.
And, more often than not, reactions to prank-attempts on campus are neutral, if not positive: involving varying degrees of confusion, curiosity and vague amusement.
But pranks — even the most well-intended ones — have a tendency to go sour: prompting unlooked-for outcomes or reactions.
Some of this can be chalked up to different senses of humor, unfortunate timing or general carelessness — but the reality is that pranks frequently have unforeseen, unintended consequences.
“I remember, relics were stolen during my time as a student,” Samuel Morris Hall Director Josiah Peterson said. “And it's like, it's kind of community building because you know, this wing gets together like: ‘we're gonna go get that back’ — but then, inevitably, someone does something to that relic. You're like, ‘Oh, that's crossed the line. Now we’re mad.’”
And what started as something fun becomes a catalyst for tension and division between members of the community.
It is simultaneously true that the consequences of pranks are rarely felt by the pranksters themselves.
Sutherland, who currently acts as the executive leader of facility services teams, notes that members of Taylor’s maintenance teams are frequently impacted by these unforeseen consequences and the after-effects of pranks that others have set, but failed to clean up. After all — as Peterson emphasizes — who wants to pull a prank that they have to themselves deconstruct?
“We have an incredibly talented and committed group of individuals that serve on our Facilities Services team,” Sutherland said. “They are committed to our students and the ministry of Taylor. However, they have very full jobs and when campus pranks require their work and time to correct, it pulls them away from their other work that they are working hard to complete (in) our learning and living spaces.”
So, where do we draw the line? How much do we excuse for the sake of comedy?
How do we build a community where the freedom to prank is coupled with both a love for others and a sense of ownership that leads to responsible action?
Two obvious solutions come to light: accountability and consideration.
Peterson notes that one of the critical responsibilities of intentional community is played out in the ways we hold one another accountable. On wings, within friend groups — how are we helping one another grow towards a greater love for God and neighbor? When we cross the line, who will hold us accountable?
We on the editorial board would argue that this is where Taylor’s intentional community comes into play.
We are uniquely placed to live in relationship with one another — this brings with it both the blessing of encouraging one another and the responsibility of calling one another out (with truth, in love) when it becomes necessary to do so.
This applies to countless situations: pranking not excluded. Accountability within community may be one of our best safeguards.
Consideration is equally critical to the comedic culture of our university. When we proactively consider the full consequences of our actions — physical or otherwise — we limit the ways our actions can unintentionally impact those around us.
Where pranking is concerned, this could look like giving facilities a heads-up when a prank is being planned in spaces that may affect their work. It could look like cleaning up or offering to restore a space post-prank.
“When a group understands the potential for impact on campus facilities, and they call and talk about the prank with our facilities services team, hearing potential concerns and making adjustments to limit the impact, it can be fun and even engaging for our team to observe,” Sutherland said. “Having a group committed to restoring physical spaces to their original condition is key. Also, taking safety into account is critical.”
Where necessary, consideration could also look like changing plans or calling off a prank when doing so is in the best interests of others in the community.
Accountability and consideration: neither solution seems particularly insightful or complicated; and yet, too often, we overlook them.
Too often, we are careless with our comedy.
We on the editorial board believe our community is faced with both a need and an opportunity — and we extend the following question, as a board, to the collective: how will we temper humor with the accountability and consideration required to ensure our attempts at humor remain funny?