The Vancouver Winter Olympics opened on a sad note last week when Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed on a practice run and died of his injuries. Despite this tragedy, the track at the Whistler Sliding Centre was quickly reopened, and the luge competition was completed without further incident on Sunday. Hurtling down an ice chute on a fiberglass board at 90 miles an hour is an inherently risky proposition, but it seems to be one that these athletes were willing to undertake. Precautions can be taken and safety measures enforced, but at the end of the day, men will do what men do, despite—or rather, in spite of—danger to life and limb.
Bowdoin may not have a varsity luge team, but we too are grappling with our own inherently risky proposition: that of alcohol's place in our social scene. No one who is involved in the party scene can ignore the clear and present dangers of alcohol, especially after the way this year has unfolded. But to the average Bowdoin drinker, the physical effects of alcohol are not nearly as alarming as its legal liabilities.
The real Bowdoin bubble, the one formed by Security's jurisdiction, has been punctured this year by the Brunswick Police Department (BPD). Armed with a Communities Against Substance Abuse grant and a clear objective of hard, measurable results, they have taken it upon themselves to replace Security as the first responder when it comes to alcohol on campus. Whatever problems they set out to address, BPD have become the real problem in the minds of many students.
The response of the International Luge Federation (FIL) to the unfortunate death of Kumaritashvili displayed the bipolar attitude that is characteristic of those who attempt to govern dangerous activities. While adding walls and pads and lowering the mens' start line, the FIL insisted that the track had always been safe, and that the accident had been caused by human error.
Bowdoin's response to the rise in alcohol transports this year has been similarly disjointed. The overriding message of Security continues to be safety, but more and more, its actions are being tailored towards protecting students from legal rather than medical repercussions. No comprehensive strategy for combating alcohol abuse at Bowdoin can advance without recognizing the importance of personal responsibility, but it would be silly to deny that the new presence of BPD has contributed to increased alcohol abuse.
Indeed, if you want a succinct summary of how drinking patterns will change in the near future, you need look no further than the motto of the Olympic Games themselves: "Citius, Altius, Fortius," or, for non-classics majors, "Swifter, Higher, Stronger." Of this we can be sure: the vacuum created by the College House System's de facto shuttering will be filled not by registered kegs, but by strong liquor, flowing swiftly in high quantities.
Faced with BPD's attempts to strongly assert a presence on campus, it's worth remembering why Bowdoin attempted to create a system as legally ambiguous as the College House System in the first place. By sponsoring organizations that are expected to throw events at which alcohol is served—organizations composed almost entirely of people under the age of 21—the College ensures that alcohol laws will be violated systematically and with official sanction. In return for taking on this risk, the administration gains the ability to monitor drinking in a relatively safe environment, assuring that said drinking occurs as responsibly as possible.
Unfortunately, this safe space—indeed the whole College House System—quickly falls to pieces when Security can no longer guarantee that they will be the first responders for noise complaints, wellness checks and other party-related issues. Last weekend, for the first time in recent memory, there were no registered kegs in the College Houses. And who can blame them? To expect to Ladd and Quinby residents to continue to throw campus-wides when they stand to be held legally responsible for any underage drinking that occurs within their walls is unrealistic at best, and untenable at worst.
Of this we can be sure: the eyes of Brunswick are decidedly upon us. Like it or not, the level of police presence on campus is directly related to the actions of this student body. If you feel that BPD has overstepped its bounds, then take it upon yourself to deny them the pleasure of accompanying you to Parkview. The only way to ensure that the police do not enforce personal responsibility is to do so yourself.
The oft-quoted alcohol transport statistic may not accurately reflect a change in drinking habits college-wide this year, but it creates a perception of such, and that perception demands action.
Whether this campus is opened to the full legal consequences of alcohol depends greatly on how well we can mitigate its bodily consequences over the coming weekends. Control ourselves, and Security may be able to leverage an armistice of sorts. Fail this, and we will find ourselves without brakes on an icy slope, hurtling towards an uncertain fate.
Carlo Davis is a member of the Class of 2012.