Bates students were overwhelmingly disappointed last week when an announce email informed the campus that the long-celebrated Halloween tradition, Trick or Drink, was cancelled.
As Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs Joshua McIntosh explained in his message to the student body, the binge drinking and underage drinking that often accompanies this event, as well as the potential ramifications within the Lewiston community, do not align with the College’s goal to create a healthy, respectful social environment on campus.
Dean McIntosh sat down with The Student to add some perspective on how the decision was reached and what students can expect going forward.
As he is new to the College, McIntosh spent the month of September and the beginning of October talking with students from athletic teams, different student groups, and other student leaders to gain some understanding of the social scene at Bates. It was in one of these conversations that he first learned of Trick or Drink.
Dean McIntosh gained insight about the event from veteran faculty members and met with neighbors who were concerned, frustrated, and upset with some student behavior on this night and other weekends during the academic year. McIntosh, in addition to other members of the faculty, decided that enabling an event that is disruptive to people in Lewiston “was in direct opposition to our previous conversations that centered around community, moderation, and civility.”
The conversations he refers to include the campus-wide discussion held last spring, in which President Spencer invited the students to an open discussion to address some of the issues surrounding the campus social scene.
Yet the lack of conversation has been the primary frustration of the student body, sparking petitions, letters to President Spencer, and countless opinions vocalized on social media. Perhaps the most controversial issue was the timing of the announcement.
McIntosh explained his email decision, “If I do it before fall break it looks like I am doing it right as people walk out the door—which is what I did,” he said. “Or I wait five or six more days until there is more talk about the event and students that are here, particularly students who are maybe living off-campus…maybe still planning. I felt like I would rather say I did the best I could to get the communication out earlier than to delay it even further.”
The Dean of Students admits that the off-campus students were not given enough notice, but he once again reiterated that the timing proved to be a huge challenge in both learning about the event and then deciding how and when to take action.
Cancelling Trick or Drink is not the final solution to the wider issue, which raises concerns amongst the student body who fear for the future of certain traditions at Bates. For one thing, the sense of camaraderie that is a result of social events such as Trick or Drink, Throwback, and Pub Crawl is valued by the students, and the modification or removal of these events has elicited suspicion about what else will be taken away.
McIntosh acknowledges the importance of tradition, but he wonders, “How do we capitalize on the sense of community and that sense of creativity, and do that in such a way that does not continue to further build the lack of civility and tensions with our neighbors?”
He is also not taking anything off the table. Some students have proposed either altering Trick or Drink to a more traditional Trick or Treat; some even suggest a Trick or Eat. But the concern here again is the mass of students entering the community, and the fact that most of the binge drinking occurs beforehand at pre-games.
Moving these events on-campus is the first step. Creating a fun and healthy social environment that satisfies a variety of students with varying interests should follow.
In his time here, McIntosh has noticed a divided campus, believing that many of those who choose not to participate in the social scene do not have a voice. He is therefore creating a working group that represents a wide variety of students, from those anchored in the party scene to those who opt out. It will also represent a range of class years and of student organizations. McIntosh said that he has waited to form the group, so he could ensure that he understood the voices that needed to be heard.
“We have to be very careful about using alcohol as a driver for reaching our inclusion objectives,” McIntosh said.” Some of these things may very well be undermining our commitment to inclusion and community.”
Dean McIntosh ultimately hopes that the working group will result in students taking ownership for the social scene on campus and taking the initiative to create traditions at Bates that are not centered around disruption and a lack of moderation with alcohol.
“There is a way to have alcohol in moderation and also have civility and community, and we seem to have gotten a little out of sync with some of these things,” Dean McIntosh said. “I want students to feel like they have agency, ownership, and leadership around what civility looks like in some of these social situations. That’s fundamentally what I am striving for.”
If off-campus houses choose to go forward with Trick or Drink, they will be subject to the Code of Conduct process already in place—no additional consequences have been created.
In response to student threats to withhold senior gifts, McIntosh states that this reaction signifies that more conversation is needed, and that those conversations are welcome. He has already met with a number of students one-on-one and plans to meet with more.
“Let’s have a conversation—and let it be a substantive conversation that drives things forward,” Dean McIntosh said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us. It’ll be creative, it’ll be exciting, it’ll be inclusive, but it is going to be a lot of work. But we’re going to have fun.”