As bizarre as it might seem to some, the tradition of Washington College students "getting naked" on May Day each year is a treasured tradition here. As far as annual college events go, some students might rank it right up beside the Birthday Ball. It's the first thing that many freshmen hear about upon arriving for their first days at college. And the traditions associated with May Day, everything from games of naked frisbee or kick ball to the annual Kent May Day Barbecue, have become institutions.
In many ways, it's a highly positive event. Mostly, it's a chance for students to just have fun, to let it all hang out and escape from the usual end-of-the-semester stress. It's a rejection of the constrictive and conservative elements of society. Maybe even a celebration of the beauty of the human body.
Granted, most people don't think about it that much; for a lot of people, it's just a chance to get drunk and run around naked. Nonetheless, there's something positive and affirming about the fact that all students - regardless of how attractive they are - can be accepted and cheered by a group of their peers, simply because they are comfortable enough with their bodies to take their clothes off.
Even people who don't participate in the event can understand some of the positive aspects. Although it's next to impossible to make it through the day without seeing some random guy's nude rear end, most of the nudity is relatively easy to avoid. Moreover, it's a fairly low-pressure event: students who want to participate can do so, and people who aren't comfortable with being naked don't have to be. At its best, May Day is just a chance to do something a little rebellious and have a great time running around without clothes.
However, the events around midnight on the College Green this May Day showed just how bad it can be when it gets out of hand. An individual - who is not a student of Washington College - climbed partway up the flagpole and then fell to the ground. While he wasn't hurt in his personal regions (as some rumors had it), he did injure his arm badly. In response to the accident, a number of policemen and rescue personnel were called to the scene, and the injured individual had to be flown to Shock Trauma via helicopter. Overall, it wasn't pretty.
The incident showed what can happen when May Day gets out of hand and when people don't act responsibly. It's one thing to go join in the throng of celebrating naked people congregating around the flagpole; it's another thing entirely to try to call attention to oneself with a stunt like climbing twenty feet up a flagpole while drunk. Even worse, sex-related incidents on May Day are not uncommon, either.
In the wake of the incident, there's been a lot of speculation about what's going to happen in the May Days of years to come. Clearly, something does need to change: as with the Birthday Balls of years past, it's a sign that something is very wrong when people have to be carried out of the event on stretchers.
But is it worth "canceling" May Day, if that's even possible? It would be a shame if that is what happens, since it can be such a positive experience. But if students want the event to continue, they have to show that they can be safe about it - mature, even. It's only fun until somebody gets hurt.
May Day can be a tremendously positive experience, but only if people are responsible about it. The event can be a fun, carefree celebration, or it can get ugly when people start engaging in silly or dangerous stunts and behaviors. It's up to the students to prove that they can have fun and still be safe.