If this were a police report, we would start with the facts. But because this is Bowdoin, we have to start with a story.
Almost two weeks ago, Epicuria happened, and our normally cliquey and divided student body came together in one of those rare moments when debauchery overshadows the crippling social paralysis that often pervades our community. This paralysis stems from students constantly judging and being judged by their peers. For one night, though, the drinking culture veered into unfamiliar territory—uncivilized and unsafe, it became a pagan affair.
To hear the adults tell it, the rugby team generated an irresponsible level of excitement and enthusiasm around the party. They whipped the campus into a frenzy. Then they fueled that fire with off-campus pre-games involving hard alcohol. Unsurprisingly, the transports piled in.
While the rugby team was commended for calling security when they became worried about a student, they were also lambasted for providing alcohol to minors and for hazing. In his campus-wide email, Tim Foster, dean of student affairs, wrote of the “obvious abandonment of sound judgment and the abdication of responsibility by leaders of the team.”
I’m not a dean or a detective, nor do I play one on TV. I don’t claim to have all the facts straight, but given the rugby team’s comments, it certainly sounds like they messed up at some level. At the very least, they provided alcohol to minors and violated the school’s hard alcohol policies.
Yet I can’t muster any moral outrage toward them. Maybe it’s because most students break those rules weekend after weekend.
There is one question that does get me fired up, however: what happened to choice?
If the rugby team poured the gasoline, what about the people who lit the match? In the rush to blame the rugby team for everything at Epicuria, it seems we are overlooking the choices that the transported students made to set off this shitstorm.
At Bowdoin there is an urge to attribute everything that happens on campus to “community”, “campus culture”, “society”, and social dynamics, all of which are big, fancy ways to explain that our environment affects our actions, and that we are part of a larger whole.
Sometimes though, it feels like the individual gets completely obscured. Suddenly, “affect” turns into “predetermine” and “looking after each other” turns into “policing each other.” When this happens, students are absolved of agency. The transgressions of any individual are interpreted as collective failure.
And that’s when we’ve gone too far. It’s important to remember that, first and foremost, we are responsible for our own actions. Our environment may affect our choices, but each day we make choices about the kind of environments in which we place ourselves. We each choose who we spend our time with. If my social scene isn’t to your liking, that’s fine. You don’t have to be a part of it and you’re certainly not invited to join our fantasy football league.
One of the best parts of a liberal arts education is that it makes you aware enough to choose consciously and, ideally, conscientiously. With the ability to make choices comes the ability to royally screw up on your own behalf. And with that ability to royally screw up comes the obligation to face personal consequences.
Sometimes, when there are four transports in a night, it is because there were four individuals who chose to attend parties with hard alcohol and chose to idiotically and enthusiastically drink themselves into a dangerous place.
And sometimes, when upperclassmen get summonses from Brunswick police and discipline handed down from the College, it’s because they broke the law and violated student policies.
And sometimes the former has a lot less to do with the latter than any scandalous story would lead us to believe. Correlation does not always imply causation.