The leadership of the College has decided to prohibit the possession or consumption of hard alcohol. They believe in doing so they are removing the key element of unsafe drinking, thus promoting a healthier campus environment. An honorable goal, but given the latest incidences of hard alcohol related misdeeds, the question must be asked: is the policy working? First we must understand the nature of the problem. Although it has been branded by most as a "drinking problem," dangerous drinking is merely a symptom of what is actually a social problem.
In all Bowdoin students there exists a sort of social angst. Do I belong here? Do I look OK? Am I smart enough, pretty enough or rich enough? The Bowdoin Proverb goes as such: Students are like ducks. We may look calm, cool, and collected, but beneath the surface we're kicking our little webbed feet just as hard as we can, struggling desperately to keep pace with our seemingly immaculate peers. Everyone experiences some level of this social anxiety and everyone seems to make it through the week OK. The problems arise when you shove 300 horny ducks in a sweaty basement with three kegs of Pabst Blue Ribbon and free rubbers. That's pretty much what you'll find at your typical social house party and in this high-pressure experience the anxiety is particularly intense.
On one side of the house there is a Darwinian struggle for beer, on the other side, a form of "dancing" known to our parents as third base. There was a time, not so long ago, when a party was more than a watering hole or the site of mating rituals. People used to go to parties to meet new people and have memorable experiences, but many students here don't even consider it a party if they remember all the people they "met." The problem is so deeply ingrained in our culture that blacking out, drinking to the point of unconsciousness, is commonly thought virtuous.
Each night plays out in a similar fashion: Pre-game with a small group of friends; drink until you are sufficiently intoxicated to flirt with a stranger; drink a little bit more (you know, just in case the beer is hard to get at); then set sail for the party. Although the pre-game allows one to overcome the anxiety of being at a social house party, the collective effect of drinking away the butterflies is the mediocre and unhealthy party scene we experience each weekend. I don't pretend to have the solution, but the prohibition of hard alcohol is certainly not it.
Bowdoin College falls under the jurisdiction of both state and federal laws; this includes laws regarding alcohol use. That means that all underage drinking that occurs on this campus is a violation of the law. Supplying a minor with alcohol, whether it occurs at a social house or in a parking lot, is a felony punishable by significant fines and/or jail time. In addition to the laws, which the College claims to enforce, the College also bans alcohol altogether in freshman dorms. Given that half of the students who have been hospitalized for excessive drinking have been first years and 85 percent have been minors, we may reasonably conclude, even without a hard liquor ban, that the College could easily police a vast majority of dangerous drinking on campus at their own discretion.
Under-age students are already prohibited from drinking alcohol, so the hard alcohol ban only constrains those students who may already drink legally. This cannot be emphasized enough; the prohibition only constrains students who are of age. This does not mean, however, that the policy does not affect younger students. It affects them greatly, just not in the way the College intends.
Under-age students, in particular first years, who choose to possess or consume any type of alcohol, have already broken state and federal law. If they used a fake I.D. or convinced an upperclassman to buy, again, they have broken state and federal law. If they have brought any type of alcohol into a freshman dorm, they have broken College policy. So what increased risk do they stand if they choose to drink Fleischman's over Pabst Blue Ribbon? None.
In fact, hard liquor is easier to transport, it works faster, it is easier to hide from the law men and in some cases it tastes better. It could stand to reason that a first year student is less likely to get caught with fifth of hard liquor than a duffle bag full of cans. The College's prohibition does absolutely nothing to discourage the purchase, possession or consumption of hard alcohol. The only effect of the policy is the creation of a false distinction between "safe" drinks like beer and wine and risky drinks like schnapps and spirits.
While the College cannot be said to directly supply alcohol to students, with the all-inclusive party culture of the social houses and a few gullible alcohol hosts, the College has effectively guaranteed the provision of "safe" alcohol to its students. Although every rational person will agree that beer is a good thing, the social house has only reinforced the blasphemous notion that beer is the less attractive sister of hard booze. The social house system, taken together with prohibition, has made the safe drinks common and mundane while the dangerous drinks have become coveted and cool. Rather than prevent or discourage students from consuming hard alcohol, the prohibition only adds greater allure to the more potent substance. Until the movers and shakers of the College are willing to search outside the box for a better policy solution, the unhealthy social culture and the drinking habits that culture entails will persist. This means considering, truly considering, that a ban on hard alcohol might not be the best solution to our problems.
Several weeks ago the leadership of the College called together a meeting of influential members of the student body. Three questions were asked of those present: Do we have a drinking problem? Why does the College have a hard alcohol ban? What can we do to solve the problem?
Although the students sought in earnest to elucidate the answers to these queries, our struggle was in vain. The powers-that-be, innocently enough, had already answered each of those questions:
"Yes, we have a problem. We ban hard alcohol because students cannot be trusted with it. The solution? First we're going to have meetings with the students. Then we'll work closely, very closely, with the Brunswick Police to launch a coordinated campaign against alcohol use on this campus."