Get busted one too many times for drinking, smoking, or using drugs, and Bowdoin won't send you to rehab or a mental hospital, but to mild-mannered, mustachioed Geno Ring.
Instead of punishing or reprimanding students, Ring, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, evaluates their substance use and helps devise strategies to curb harmful behavior.
"We want to reach out with compassion, and say, 'how do we help prevent this behavior?' It's not about 'how do we punish them?'" Ring said. "It's never my job to get anyone to think like me: It's my job to get people to think."
For three years, Ring has worked with Bowdoin students who have been referred to him after incidents involving drugs or alcohol. One example of such an incident, according to Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, would be alcohol poisoning that necessitates a trip to the hospital.
Ring sees about 20 students a year on referrals, each of whom must pay $300 for three evaluation sessions.
Also, a new Bowdoin policy allows for two free consultation sessions for students who go to Ring or the counseling service on their own. Ring said that he has seen between five and 10 students since the program began in December.
The new program is completely confidential: students who would like a consultation may contact Ring directly through e-mail (email@example.com), or through the counseling service.
According to Ring, his job is to help students "evaluate where they are on the spectrum of substance use."
Most students referred to him, Ring says, do not meet the criteria for drug addiction. In the three years he has been seeing Bowdoin students, he has only seen two that he would classify as addicts.
Ring said that he mostly sees students with alcohol problems. Though he has evaluated some students abusing prescription medication, he said that he has not heard of any hard drug use.
"Alcohol by far is the drug of choice, followed by marijuana," he said.
Ring said that the students he sees are evenly split by gender and class year, and that he sees an equal number of intercollegiate athletes and non-athletes.
Once Ring determines the extent of an individual's problem, he will work to develop a strategy to mitigate the behavior.
In the rare case of addiction, Ring said that the drug or alcohol use must be abandoned entirely. More often, however, Ring's strategies for students are ways to reduce use, such as avoiding hard alcohol, or slowly drinking a heavier beer like an ale.
Ring said the College takes a good approach to the drinking issue.
"Bowdoin has a pretty healthy, balanced view of the impact alcohol brings to campus life," he said.
Ring, a recovering alcohol and drug addict himself, started counseling students for their own addictions four or five years into his own recovery?some 20 years ago. Since then, he has worked with kids and young adults at the Hyde School and Morse High School in Bath, in addition to his work with Bowdoin students.
Ring said that the opportunity to positively impact the lives of students is valuable.
"It's rewarding to think you might have an impact on somebody's life," he said. "Most of the students have reported to me that they appreciate the opportunity to think out loud. I'm impressed with Bowdoin that they're willing to provide these services for students."
Over the years, Ring says that he has noticed that students have been starting their drug use earlier in life?when he was in school, most people didn't begin drinking until college.
"Now we see people starting substance use in eighth grade," he said.
Ring also said that because of Bowdoin's competitive admissions process, few students enter the school with drug problems. Nonetheless, Ring has spoken with students who he said are not happy with Bowdoin's drinking culture.
"My sense is that there's an underlying level of dissatisfaction with drinking?there's a certain mundane, repetitive quality to it," he said.
Ring added that Bowdoin has a distinct pattern of drinking on Thursday and Saturday nights.
"When I was a kid, it was more day-to-day," he said.
Also, he added, substance use no longer has any political connotations.
In his memory, Ring said, "substances were a big part of the anti-war movement, the anti-Nixon movement...there was certainly an intent on getting high to change the world."
"Now, it's getting high to have fun, period. I don't see it as a part of the fabric of being an environmentalist," he said.