Since Bowdoin’s annual Cold War party was disrupted by the Brunswick Police Department (BPD), students, in the pages of the Orient and at the Bowdoin Student Government’s public comment session, have voiced frustration, confusion and dismay about a perceived increase in BPD’s enforcement on campus. Since then, the conversation has moved beyond the immediate events of Cold War. Some students have questioned the wisdom of the Office of Residential Life’s (ResLife) E- and A-host system, arguing that the current arrangement is both unclear and places an unfair legal burden on students. Others have alleged that BPD has handled recent incidents with an unnecessarily heavy hand, threatening to arrest students at Cold War for offences that do not rise to the level of arrestable infraction, and issuing a court summons for jaywalking on Harpswell Road. Others have wondered whether Bowdoin Security, which insisted that BPD did not enter either of the College Houses despite student testimony to the contrary, has been completely forthcoming with students.
Though these complaints and concerns are not baseless, they appear to overlook the bigger picture, which is a fundamental disconnect between the reality of college culture and the law. In America, drinking and college are culturally inextricable. We are told by older siblings, friends and sometimes even parents that it is acceptable, within limits, to imbibe as soon as we unpack our freshman dorm. The Princeton Review includes “biggest party schools” among its rankings—and making this list is a point of pride, rather than shame, for the selected student bodies. In short, drinking at college is as American as baseball and apple pie.
State law, however, pays absolutely no heed to this reality. And though we are not optimistic that Maine will lower its legal drinking age to 18, we think that, before pointing fingers at various groups on campus, we should acknowledge that the College is confronting a problem that it has not created and that it cannot unilaterally solve.
At best, BPD, Bowdoin Security and ResLife are working to mitigate the effects of an obtuse and outdated law. Of course, productive criticism never hurts. Could ResLife be more transparent about the legal implication of its policies? Sure. Should BPD use scare tactics on students? We think not. But can any of these groups solve the whole problem? No. We should temper our ire—at administrators who are working to keep us safe and happy, or at the state and town employees who are attempting to do their jobs—with the knowledge that the root of the problem lies beyond the limits of our campus.
As it stands, the College is attempting to keep us safe, and BPD is enforcing the law—two goals which have become incompatible. Which leads us to ask: Is the problem with our campus or with the law?
This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Harry DiPrinzio, Dakota Griffin, Calder McHugh and Ian Ward.