College houses were introduced to Bowdoin as a replacement to fraternities, assuming the former fraternity roles both of providing housing to students but also of serving as a space for social gathering?including the social consumption of alcohol. The College's policy on this aspect of the House system is flawed.
While I am not privy to the inner workings of Residential Life or the motivations of its staff, I will propose two hypotheses that I expect are acceptable to the Bowdoin community at large and hopefully, Residential Life.
First premise: Students under the age of 21, and most importantly first-years, enjoy consuming alcoholic beverages and are going to consume them regardless of college alcohol policy.
Second premise: While the College cannot control whether or not students choose to drink, it can reasonably influence the manner in which they drink and their safety while drinking by providing a non-exclusive, College-sponsored venue in which alcohol consumption can be controlled and monitored?for example, a college house.
While these two premises may seem easily acceptable, in stating them we have already run astray of college policy, which on the one hand "is committed to enhancing the development of responsible attitudes and behavior regarding the consumption of alcoholic beverages and to devising policies and providing the information and education that will reduce dangerous drinking," but on the other hand states that "Bowdoin College students must comply with Maine state laws regarding the consumption, sale, purchase, and delivery of alcohol," laws that set a clear 21 year-old drinking age and therefore clearly ban those under the age of 21 from drinking in college houses.
"But wait a minute," you say, "upper-class students don't go to college house parties, they are full of first years!" Now the hypocrisy begins. My fellow Ladd house members and I, all of whom are under the age of 21, gave our affiliate first years a talk at the beginning of the year that I heard last year as a first year and every other house gives its affiliates except for Howell House. That talk is the "put your cups down if Security comes" talk.
We reassure the first years that even though we put X's on their hands to identify their underage status (never mind that all of us also have X's), they still will be served beer at our parties. The X's are only there so we, as a house, and Residential Life and the College as a whole, can pretend that it is following Maine state law.
Now, in theory, I don't have a problem with this practice. The College is placed in an impossible bind by the disparity between the law and real life. If it wants to pursue its goal of providing a constructive environment that encourages social rather than binge drinking, it has to break the law. Perhaps this should have encouraged the College to consider the Amethyst initiative, but that is beyond the scope of this piece.
The problem with the College alcohol policy with regard to college houses is that it transfers the burden of blame with regard to underage drinking from the College and Residential Life to the residents of the college houses and the alcohol hosts at their parties.
Make no mistake about it, the College wants first years to be served alcohol at college houses?it knows that they would all just take shots in their rooms before they went out to off-campus houses if we didn't give them beer.
Alcohol hosts for these parties are put in the impossible position of being told through official College policy in the alcohol hosting sessions they attend every semester that they are only to serve students who are 21 while at the same time understanding the nature of a college house party?that they are fully expected to serve alcohol to anyone who requests it. Despite this expectation, they are still liable for anything that goes wrong at the party. This is evident every time Security comes through a party at one of the houses.
Security doesn't try to bust underage drinking, they go straight to the kegs and talk to the alcohol host. If they are truly concerned that the first years are too drunk, they don't get the first years in trouble, they get the alcohol host or the house as a whole in trouble.
Bowdoin has cleverly found a way to foster an on-campus venue at which first years can drink that has a built-in group of people to blame if something goes wrong that are outside of official college policy.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, the College has also somehow fully extricated itself from any of the financial burden of this system.
Fraternities, which existed outside of college control, could charge money at the door or use any manner of methods to raise money to host parties with alcohol. This was a terrible system that further violated liquor laws.
However, the College has replaced fraternities with college houses, taking underage drinking into full college control, without addressing the issue of the funding of this drinking.
Where does this funding come from? Of course, the same people the College blames if other things go wrong: the college house residents. We are forced to collect money from House residents if we want to have a party with alcohol, alcohol that will be consumed by a majority of first years.
Alternatively, we can go under the radar and try to raise money from our affiliate first years, a practice to which the College seems to turn a blind eye.
Bowdoin is shirking responsibility and placing an unfair burden on its college house residents with this practice.
Because the College would like to promote a safe social environment that includes responsible drinking, why should the alcohol for much of the campus on a given weekend come out of the pockets of students?
The College needs to step up to the plate and complete the process that the move from fraternities to College Houses started?a process of internalizing and opening up underage drinking to College control and monitoring.
They can do this by purchasing the alcohol used in registered College House parties. This is not an entirely outlandish idea, in fact, it is done by many fine institutions including Yale University and the Claremont Colleges in California.
These practices could be embraced at Bowdoin as well, and at the very least they should start a campus dialogue on the role of college houses and alcohol on campus.
Wes Fleuchaus '11 is the programming director of Ladd House.