Have you ever dug around in your backpack or coat pockets and pulled out a banana and wondered, “When did that get there?” Yes, you almost definitely have. In all likelihood, you shoved it in your pocket on your way out of Danforth or Douglass, thinking “I could eat this later!” Smuggling fruit out of the dining halls is an almost universal practice among UR students, but is it theft? Although the University’s policy technically states that all food must be eaten inside the dining halls, taking an extra banana never seemed wrong. But what about two bananas? Five? 10?
My question stems from a conversation with a UR graduate named Sherman*, who boasted that he once smuggled a whopping 23 bananas out of Douglass at once. “The trick is to go for three or four at a time,” he explained. “Just make a circuit around all the different banana carts a few times, and don’t forget to bring a duffel bag!” Despite recalling in vivid detail how he performed the operation, Sherman claims to have no recollection of what he ultimately decided to do with the bananas, or where they ended up.
Was Sherman stealing? Sherman’s conscience was clear, and this startled me. Being his friend — and eventual girlfriend (Yep. He steals hearts, too) — I decided that I needed objective, outside sources to help assess the morality of his behavior. So I talked to a member of the Student Judicial Council. When asked about the ethics of taking bananas from Douglass, Jane* said: “Taking one banana is definitely reasonable. It could be that you were late for class and simply didn’t have time to eat it at that moment and maybe will eat it as soon as you get to class. Two, though? I definitely feel like you’re saving at least one of those for later.” When I revealed to Jane that I knew of someone who had smuggled 23 bananas out of Douglass, her response was: “What? No. He’s a sociopath. Saving a banana or two for later is one thing, especially given how much UR charges us, but 23 just seems egregious. At least some of those bananas went to waste, which is just sad.”
Jane’s response made it clear that the law would not support Sherman’s actions, but I wondered if Jesus would. When I asked campus religious group Protestant Chapel Community if they thought God would deem Sherman’s actions sinful, heated debate arose. “Well, UR does charge insane prices for bananas, and God knows that, but 23 does seem kind of excessive,” said one board member. “Yeah, well, what if he distributed all those bananas to homeless people?” another board member interjected. “You’d think God would appreciate that kind of thing.” Voices rose above one another as the board grew increasingly excited until Chaplain Laura’s* voice rose above everyone else’s: “Okay, everyone! God probably would not want us to steal bananas from a grocery store and distribute them, and this isn’t much different even if Hillside does charge $1.09 per banana. Besides, we’re talking about 23 bananas here. C’mon, guys.”
Although there was fruitful discussion in the church group, they failed to reach a consensus on Sherman’s morality. It dawned on me that I needed input from someone who not only knew of Sherman’s behavior, but understood it, so I interviewed psychologist Dr. Howells.* “Why did Sherman take those bananas? Well,because he could,” Howells said, “He knew he wouldn’t get in trouble for it, and it was a healthy outlet for his mischief, which is precisely why I think it should be allowed. If you don’t let college kids occasionally take 23 bananas because they feel like it, they’ll turn to worse outlets and do real damage.” While the morality of Sherman taking 23 bananas is still up for debate, UR can sleep easy, knowing that the world is a safer place for letting him be.
*Names changed so that Sherman and other interviewees will not be persecuted for expressing their views or actions, should this feature fall into the hands of a disgruntled Dining Services worker.