As last semester wound down, one of my professors asked the class why such a large percentage of students would want to take depressants every weekend. It took me a second to register that he meant alcohol. A couple answers were offered: peer pressure, cultural norms, liquid courage. All were correct, but the last stuck with me. 

While alcohol doesn’t quite take us to the level of Ron Weasley on Felix Felicis, it can make even the most awkward of us just that little bit smoother. Our understanding of parties as places without consequence adds to our confidence.  

Not only is this idea dangerous in and of itself, but it blurs the boundaries of acceptability. The confidence that alcohol provides can translate into sexual aggression, and in many cases consent is not sought out but assumed. As a guy, I can prowl College House basements, and think that it’s normal if I forgo questions and choose actions. I can just dance up onto a girl. If the girl keeps dancing, sweet. If she walks away, ah well, I guess she wasn’t feeling it. Her loss. And so it goes, with the aggressiveness translating into attempts to make out or to do whatever else can be done. 

There’s nothing wrong with trying to hook up on the dance floor. The few times I’ve managed it, it’s a lot of fun. The other times, well, I just remember dancing with my boys to “And We Danced.” But, that’s not my point. It’s not even that grinding is the only form of dancing on campus. The problem is the culture of assumption and expectation that accompanies hooking up. 

There are definitely girls who enjoy guys grinding with them without going through the potential awkwardness of asking. It speeds things up, as a girl, it means someone’s attracted to you, and you’re no longer alone in a basement. But assumptions of consent don’t always hold true. There are also girls who don’t like it. By grinding up on them, you force yourself onto someone. 

I’ll be upfront. I haven’t done any analytical study, spoken to every student at this school, or gone to every College House basement. I’ve only been to Crack once. But I’ve heard of too many instances of students assuming consent, from those who didn’t ask and those who weren’t asked. Whether it’s grinding, the placement of your hands or leaning in for a kiss, you need to get consent. You could ask, you could make sustained eye contact, or you could take the oft-neglected option of sign language. What’s the worst that could happen? If someone wants to dance with you, they’ll say as much when you ask them. And if it’s a no, there’s always Super Snack. 

This culture extends beyond the dance floor. You’re grinding with a girl. This is great. But you want to hook up with her. All you need is to start grinding face to face. Sweet, she’s turned, it’s guaranteed. These ideas continue as long as the influence of alcohol does, with similar assumptions carrying into the dorms. There’s a pervading thought that if a girl returns home with you, there’s a guarantee of something. These expectations lead to pressure, and so if a girl just wanted to make out, you now feel as if she’s not holding up her end of the bargain. “You said you wanted to come back with me, so what do you mean you don’t want to take off your shirt?” She becomes a tease, a prude; you tell your friends she led you on. A lot of times she can say no and that ends the discussion, but there are still too many times where that’s not the case. 

Too often, someone will get away with acting on these assumptions. “Alcohol can do funny things to people. That’s not really who he is, he’s so nice most of the time.” It’s like saying someone had good intentions. It’s just not enough. When someone tells you “It’s the thought that counts” after you’ve given them a gift, understand that your gift sucked. Being nice during the daytime should not be enough to give you a pass for the night. Sober or drunk, you have to take responsibility for your actions. If you know that you become an aggressive drunk after a certain amount of alcohol, you’re responsible for not drinking up to that point. 

We're all walking contradictions, but the important part is to engage with our internal hypocrisies. Without recognizing where we fall short, we’ll continue to do so. Our aggressions and assumptions will become normal, and when that becomes acceptable, we’re in trouble. 

Bowdoin is definitely a safer environment than the world we’re soon to go into, but bad things still happen on this campus. We don’t talk about the seven sexual offenses reported in both 2010 and 2011 in the Office of Safety and Security’s Clery Report, or the five in 2009, or the fact that we know that the figures are probably higher than those reported. We don’t talk about Dean Foster and the administration’s thorough mismanagement of Ariel Brown’s sexual assault case in December 2007. (Ariel Brown is a pseudonym). We don’t talk about how easy it is for things to go wrong during the first Pub Night, and in the College House basements the weekends after. We don’t even talk about the nice guy in your English class who didn’t let go of you after you grinded for a song.

We need to redefine what is acceptable. We need to make people accountable for their actions, but most of all, we need to start talking. 

Zohran Mamdani is a member of the Class of 2014.