I want to make one thing clear before you read any further. I was itching to write this article last year, but refrained, thinking it would interfere with my ability to speak at Commencement. I was afraid that if I spoke my mind, certain powers at Bates would suppress my voice. To all those out there that didn’t already know, this is the current state of Bates College.
On the issue of Trick or Drink: a mix of anger and passion fanned the flames in my words earlier this week. While Bates has ramped up security surveillance and made a point of trying to catch every person who wants to enjoy a beer this year (from what I’ve heard), I misspoke when I said students are living in a “police state.” Feathers were ruffled, zingers were zung, and I apologize for the offense taken. If I could amend my previous statement from “I’ll gladly keep my money instead of enabling my alma mater to continue to turn Bates into a police state,” to “I will not provide financial support to an institution that uses a police force to suppress any act that conflicts with the administration’s policies that are arbitrarily decided on without student representation,” I would. As it happened, I did not, which has made it necessary for me to expand on and add clarity to my previous statements while furthering the discourse on this issue at the same time. Being optimistic rules.
To write off the recent mobilization of Bates College students as a party brigade, hell bent on gaining back the liberty to rip shots until they pass out, is a gross simplification of the situation as well as an alarmingly uncreative opinion. Alas, we are yet again caught up in the twisted tango of HOW, not WHAT. Anytime a governing body goes ahead and starts brandishing its totalitarian muscle, there’s going to be problems. Not one person should be surprised. As Americans we are raised to despise autocracy, so when it plops itself into our lives it really isn’t any wonder that we don’t smile when we have tyranny smeared toast shoved down our gullet. If students were involved in the decision, fine. If the administration worked with students to find a compromise, okay. If Trick or Drink still occurred but was changed to not allow the serving of alcohol–it still sucks, but for some reason I’m not nearly as angry. So, yeah, there is going to be some pushback, because in the end everyone agrees that being patronized blows and that’s exactly what just happened at Bates.
“But these immature kids only care about partying, why aren’t they all up in arms about something more, uhhh, legitimate?” This is a popular opinion that can be undressed using relatively simple language. Half my life at Bates College was devoted to academic excellence and the other half was focused on having a ton of fun. Perhaps it’s childish of me, but the freedom to experience joy – often occurring in a party atmosphere – is right atop my list of social causes. Grimace away. I rarely get caught up in social movements. Plainly put, it hasn’t been my style since I left D.C. However, one social cause that will fire me up without fail is the vilification of underage drinkers (This is a deeply personal sentiment that I’m not going to expand on here, but if you’re interested feel free to visit www.seanpatrickmccullough.com). It happens all too often and to be brutally honest the drinking laws in this country are the absolute laughing stock of our legal system. Did anyone reading this wait until they were 21 to have their first drink? Did Clayton? Did any of Bates Security? Perhaps. But I’d volley a guess that all of the above did not. And yet as soon as we turn 21 we all too quickly regard underage drinkers as criminals. What a bunch of crap that is. I might have graduated to the “right” age, but I still remember the terror that was running from the police and my heart plummeting to hear of a friend getting in trouble for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Am I an advocate for underage drinking? You betchya. I don’t think underage drinking should exist because I don’t believe there should be a legal drinking age at all.
Sometimes I wish I could politely put my mouth right up against Clayton Spencer’s ear and whisper, “College kids are going to drink no matter what, and there is nothing you can do to change it.” To be clear, I harbor a ridiculous amount of respect for Clayton Spencer. That woman is one of the most intelligent, driven, well-spoken, resourceful leaders that I have had the pleasure of meeting. Which is why her policies on drinking are all the more frustrating, surprising, and in my opinion not in accordance with the liberal arts mission. My reasoning? Banning anything takes the least amount of thought possible. Think suits around a table with big stamps that say NO with plenty of red ink. Seriously, was there any critical thinking applied when this decision was made? Did someone try to approach the issue from a different angle or did the powers that be simply yell “no” over and over again until they vomited all over their bibs? They could have consulted the History Department and asked for the results of Prohibition, or approached the Psychology Department to better understand the innate reactions to patronization, or perhaps looked at other colleges’ policies on the matter. I’m sure not every small liberal arts school has a mile-long rift between its student body and its president. Unless that’s what she is going for; it seems that way at least. How could a person capable of such cunning not predict her inevitable lack of popularity when decisions are made without the slightest bit of creativity or student input? It leaves one to assume that Clayton is looking to appease other parties with no regard for the students. Not a great move, C. Spence.
The thing about all this is that it is not a Bates specific issue, it’s a nationwide issue. College kids are going to drink. Administrations are going to try to stop them from doing so and prolifically fail. There’s an amazing pattern here. Prohibition doesn’t work, but education and providing a safe environment to drink does (relatively speaking). Instead of pretending the issue will go away if another rule is made, let’s use the awesome creativity we possess as liberal arts students to find unorthodox solutions. And let’s start by involving students in the discussion. I might be an alum, but I’m not giving up on ya, Batesies. Since I am not directly on campus and therefore privy to the pulse of the situation, let me know if you need an advocate or simply a bit of extra passion. I love Bates with all my heart and I do not want to sit idly by as the school tears down not only social traditions, but also its tradition of student empowerment.