Hoverboard ban paves way for major change

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • January 13, 2016

At issue: Emerson updates policy to reflect changing times.

Our take: With hoverboards other policies should roll into the future.

If Marty McFly were real, he would’ve woken to a somber memo on Jan. 4—hoverboards got banned at Emerson College, along with similarly slick and self-propelled scooters and devices. The college reasoned these gadgets (and their exploding batteries) posed too big a safety risk on campus, especially during high-traffic times on our main drag, Boylston St., and in our narrow hallways. Emerson isn’t the first to pull the rug, or rather board, out from under users’ feet. The U.K. recently banned public use of hoverboards, along with New York City; airlines Delta, United, American, and British Airways; and more than 30 colleges across the nation. Back to the Future left us hanging, as it didn’t predict how to police hoverboards. But like all new technologies, their arrival requires laws to emerge and adapt, and hopefully to do so with the well-being of citizens in mind. And although Emerson’s new rule is cased in a humorous shell, the college’s recent ban of the device, at its core, is a reminder that conduct policies shan’t be set in stone. 

There’s an obvious humor to this ban, one that students and administrators alike have realized. Not only are hoverboards popular enough to spot in use on Boston’s sidewalks, but they’ve become notorious enough to outlaw. How’s this for an image: members of the Office of Housing and Residence Life and Student Conduct crowding around a desktop, giggling at videos of hoverboard fails and then realizing the effect these simple misfortunes could have on a college campus. Imagine—a Mike Tyson video having a direct effect on our school’s conduct policies.

The passing of this change to the student conduct policy serves as an important reminder for the school. Although it should have been known before, the ban reaffirms the student code of conduct is a living document meant to change and grow with the school environment. Just as Emerson and the community it resides in has evolved over the years, the guidelines for students should undergo a similar transformation. In 2009, Emerson College finally joined the ranks of other schools by adding a medical amnesty alcohol policy. Since students were drinking on campus anyway, the change was long overdue. Today the consensus on campus—and many college campuses—is that the strict policy on medicinal marijuana needs to be revisited, among other issues. If a device as futuristic as the hoverboard can galvanize our administration into altering campus policy, then surely issues concerning student health should be next for reform. 

The initiative shown by our student conduct officials should not just be praised, but applied to other areas of student life. There are other parts of the Code of Conduct that should be updated to reflect the modern world. Take the newly passed law raising the legal age for tobacco purchases to 21. Emerson needs to decide if 21-year-old students can still possess and consume tobacco products on campus, as they cannot with alcohol. Moreover, all students can use vaporizers without triggering smoke detectors, but now most students can’t legally possess them. We also need to re-examine our marijuana policy for on-campus students with prescriptions now that the federal government has lifted its ban on medicinal marijuana. 

Though it might be easy to laugh about a campus-wide email forbidding the futuristic vehicle—after all, aren’t there other things we should be working on?—it shows the college is trying to innovate in multiple facets. Policies are what make changes, and though now it might just be protecting our classmates from an embarrassing tumble on Boylston, it holds the potential for future conduct revisions, too.