Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols was fielding students' questions about Ivies Weekend on Monday night when he was interrupted by an off-topic inquiry asking whether he'd like to be the Outing Club's guest of honor on an upcoming whitewater rafting trip.
Before Nichols could respond, senior Will Hales chimed in.
"You know Randy invented rivers, right?"
Nichols, who asks that students call him by his first name, is seen by many Bowdoin students as both an authority figure and a friend, as well as a mild campus celebrity.
Since Nichols arrived at Bowdoin in 2005, his approach to Security at the College has been one of accessibility and mutual respect.
"It's my personal philosophy that the more trust you can build, the safer students will be," he said, noting that he never turns down an opportunity to talk with a student.
"There's a joke in the office that if you want to get to a meeting on time, don't walk with Randy Nichols," he said. "My inclination is just always be readily accessible. The more I'm known on campus, it just helps to break down barriers."
Although Nichols said that some eight to 10 students meet with him in his office every day, the majority of his interactions with students take place outside of Rhodes Hall. Students can expect to see Nichols in the dining halls, at sporting events, and even at campus parties.
"I go where the action is," he said. "The worst thing I can do is get anchored to this chair."
For Harry Schnur '08, a member of the campus band The Day Jobs, Nichols's presence at a concert marks the performance a success.
"We say to each other, 'Did you see? Randy came!', rather than, 'What a bummer it was when Security showed up,'" Schnur said.
Nichols, who was both a radio broadcaster and a state police officer before coming to Bowdoin, frequently plays campus bands on his WBOR radio show.
"When he comes to our concerts, he participates in ways that not many authority figures can," Schnur added. "He listens to the music, watches the performance, and really seeks out a more holistic understanding of the event. He has a keen sense of what behaviors are harmless and which are not, and if called upon to intervene, he does so in the most appropriate and considered of ways."
According to Schnur, it is Nichols's ability to balance "intimacy and authority" that makes him so successful as his job.
Senior Noah Buntman agreed. "Randy's image works well. Students like him and have fun with him but respect his authority," he said.
"The simple fact that we all know him as 'Randy' is a testament to this. He is so personable. He is the McGruff Crime Dog of Bowdoin College," Buntman added.
Buntman, a candidate in the ongoing mock congressional elections, has included Nichols in his campaign posters.
"He is an Oprah, or better yet, a Chuck Norris for any campaign," Buntman said.
In addition to posing for Buntman's campaign posters, Nichols has helped with countless other student projects by participating in interviews, voiceovers, and the occasional music video.
"I'm not opposed to having fun," Nichols said. "I rarely say no as long as it's done in good fun."
For example, Aki Shishido '08 asked Nichols to read a fictional security report on zombie-related assaults for a trailer for his recently released film, "Class of the Dead."
"Randy has a very 'official' voice that is bound to grab attention," Shishido wrote in an e-mail to the Orient. "There was also the inherent idea that someone might subconsciously think, 'Wow, Randy Nichols supports this movie! Now I HAVE to see it!'"
Nichols said that he has worked hard to balance his role as an authority figure and a friend during his time at Bowdoin.
"I want students to consider me a friend, but there are different kinds of friends," he said. "I'm not a friend in the sense of a buddy. I'm a friend in the sense that they can come to me."
According to Nichols, the fact that many students know him on a personal level makes for a much safer campus.
"I know hundreds of students on campus, and the ones I don't know, know me," he said, noting that Security issues are solved fastest when officers are dealing with students on a personal level.
"When you build the foundation of trust that's real, not manufactured, it allows me to be more effective from a Safety and Security standpoint," Nichols added.
While many students have come to trust Nichols for his personal approach to College safety, Buntman said he respects Nichols for one additional reason as well.
According to Buntman, one of his friends went home a few weeks ago after a heavy night of drinking and proceeded to write a ranting e-mail to a friend about his or her roommates, professors, and sexual escapades, only to discover in the morning that it had been accidentally sent to Nichols instead. Expecting the worst, the regretful student opened Nichols's e-mail response.
As Buntman recalls, it read, "Dear ____, I do not believe that I was the intended recipient of this e-mail. Nevertheless, I read it all the way through. Writing e-mails can be very therapeutic sometimes so I encourage you to continue doing so. Next time, double check the address. Your secret is safe with me. -Randy Nichols."