Glancing over her shoulder, Riley smiled shakily at her friend, Tessa. “Are you up for the big Sociology project?” The two girls filed into the college auditorium, Tessa just nodded. “You look about as nervous as I feel. Why did we sign-up for this again?“
“Because you convinced me it would be easier to participate in this simple 24-hour experiment than to sit through a whole semester of lectures.”
Riley licked her lips and swallowed hard. “That was before I read about the prison experiment. Now I’m scared. Things went really wrong with that. The professor ended up stopping it early. The students who played the part of prison guards turned on their classmates. One Prisoner went on a hunger strike. Some of them got really messed up.” The girls reached their seats just as Professor Smith entered the room.
“You’ve all agreed to participate in an experiment similar to the infamous Stanford Prison Study. Everyone was supposed to read Professor Zimbardo’s report. If you haven’t done the homework, you may not participate in this experience. It’s vital that you fully understand all of the risks.”
There were 30 students listening when he stopped his introduction and glanced around the room. The shuffling of feet, scraping of chairs, and the clearing of throats sounded like thunder in the tension-filled room.
Tessa had tears filling her eyes; she stared at Riley and whispered, “Promise that we’ll both stay true to our beliefs?“
Her friend vehemently nodded her head. “I swear; we’re both going to be leaders and examples of the way civilized humans should act. We’ll show them and get an easy A too.” She laughed hoping it would reassure Tessa.
Professor Smith continued, “There’ll be cameras filming continuously. Someone will be monitoring the session from the next room. The local police, health center and counseling clinic have been notified and will respond if necessary.
“Everything has been done to ensure your safety, but I must remind you this is strictly on a volunteer basis. If you do not stay for the full 24 hours, then you have to attend the class and complete ten required papers.
“If anyone wants to drop out, now is your opportunity. Once the timer starts, you will not be allowed to leave unless the doctors feel it’s medically necessary.”
Riley gulped, “Are we sure we want to do this?”
“Easy A, remember?”
Professor Smith coughed, “Our lawyers require us to read the prison rules and consent out loud.
“Prisoners and Guards will be determined randomly. Guards are in control and expected to maintain order. Prisoners will be fed bread and water; when out of cells, prisoners must walk in single file with hands behind backs, NO TALKING. All participants must wear the appropriate outfit for entire experiment.”
Riley looked around; she and Tessa weren’t the only ones that looked like they might puke at any minute. Part of her wanted to run from the room, but the class was at 8:00 AM and she hated getting up early. Besides, it was only 24 hours; she could endure anything for a day.
Professor Smith handed out the consent forms. “Before you sign these, I want to quote from the Stanford Study:Prisoners and guards rapidly adapted to their roles, stepping beyond the boundaries of what had been predicted and leading to dangerous and psychologically damaging situations.
“Remember that before you sign this consent: I volunteer to participate in Ashburn University’s sociology experiment. I understand this experiment may cause physical and emotional stress. I have read all required documents and will not hold the college responsible for any accidental death or injuries resulting from this experiment.
“Does anyone wish to back out? “ He looked around the room; all the students were shaking their heads. “Okay sign the consent.”
After everyone had signed, Professor Smith rolled his eyes, “The real experiment is to learn about why you decided to endure a reckless experiment to avoid an early class and to receive an easy A. You’re all are excused now. Go home and use the next day to write a 2,000 word essay on decisions and their effect on you and those around you. On Monday, we‘ll meet here and everyone will read their paper.
“Yes, you still get your A and Monday is the only class. Also, those who chose the class over the experiment, have the same requirements as you. Think about that while you’re writing. See you Monday.”
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