Imagine your friends are throwing a huge party. “It’s going to be the blowout of the century,” they tell you, as they pile immaculate pastries onto silver trays and stack endless boxes of that pink Franzia everyone likes.
Suddenly, though, you’re startled to see the dastardly Drangus Twins enter. “Oh my God guys,” you whisper to your poor hosts. “The Drangus Twins just walked in. How did they find out about the party?”
“Oh don’t worry about them,” your gracious hosts reply. “We invited them.”
“You INVITED them?!” you gasp. “Don’t you know they’re notorious for shitting all over the buffet at every party they go to?”
“No, no silly,” your hosts laugh as they scoop mountains of caviar onto grade-A Kobe steaks. “We told them not to shit on the buffet!”
“But they always shit on the buffet!” you exclaim. “They’re not going to listen to you! The Drangus Twins’ putrid shit is going to ruin the party for everybody!”
Your hosts are suddenly solemn. “When the Twins shit on the buffet,” they inform you in hushed tones, responsibly wagging their fingers, “it will be their fault, not ours. THEY ruined the party for you and everybody else.”
Here’s my question: do we really only blame the Drangus Twins for ruining the party? Sure, they’re directly responsible for the shitting. Yes, they could have very easily not shit on the buffet, or, if they couldn’t possibly help themselves, they could have stayed home away from the temptation.
But I’m not sure it’s the Drangus Twins that we’re really upset with here. As I said, you knew that the Drangus Twins were straight-up going to shit on the buffet. Everyone knows this about the Drangus Twins because they’ve made it glaringly obvious; they shit on every buffet, and in so doing, earned quite the reputation. Your hosts knew this and invited them anyway, so they are just passing the buck after the fact for something they knew was going to happen all along. If the hosts wanted a party free from shit, they knew they couldn’t invite the Drangus Twins. The Twins are responsible for the shit, but the hosts are at fault for the ruined party.
The College is acting like our party hosts. Instead of focusing on the outcome of healthy Bowdoin and Brunswick communities and pursuing policies to that effect, it tries to claim innocence and ignorance. Are we supposed to believe that the administration is surprised that students are gathering and breaking social distancing guidelines? Of course they’re not, they’ve been dealing with college students for a pretty long time. So when the College chooses to have students back on campus during a pandemic, they’re pretty much inviting the Drangus Twins to the party. Everyone knows that College students are going to party. Should they be partying? No, of course not; they should be doing their part to stem the spread of COVID-19 by staying home and social distancing. But it’s necessary to ask: “Why were the Drangus Twins even here to begin with? We all pretty much knew they were gonna shit on the buffet!” The College can feign shock, but they expected this all along.
It’s obvious the College often intervenes to mitigate issues that aren’t directly its own fault. Bowdoin trains security officers to deal with alcohol poisoning even though it’s not (strictly) the College’s fault that students sometimes drink too much. The College doesn’t just throw up its hands and say, “That’s not OUR fault,” and let your buddy who’s never tried vodka die on the bathroom floor. When a student doesn’t do well on essay assignments by no fault of the College, Bowdoin still offers help at the writing center. It’s decided it cares about having safe and capable students, so it implements measures to reach that goal. If the College wanted a safe, COVID-free Brunswick, they would not have invited the entire first-year class to campus. So it is worth asking ourselves: which outcomes are they actually trying to achieve?
As students, focusing our anger at first years not only obfuscates the College’s culpability, but also the far more villainous responsibility of our do-nothing federal government. We need solidarity as young people, as college students and as Bowdoin students now more than ever. The College wants us to blame each other, for upperclassmen to clash endlessly with underclassmen so that when it eviscerates aid, refuses adequate housing accommodations and charges full tuition for online instruction again next term we are totally divided, unprepared to fight back. Individual people, especially students, can make big, selfish mistakes, especially while starting college alone on an iPad in Osher. The College should be in the business of preventing the obviously inevitable, not blaming students when they make such mistakes.
We all knew the first years wouldn’t be perfect, including the top Bowdoin administrators. They can pass the buck just like our party hosts when the Drangus Twins arrive, but at the end of the day, students, faculty, staff and Brunswick residents are in harm’s way because of their recklessness. Now, campus is covered in shit.