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What Hard Alcohol Ban?

Coming off of another weekend here at Bates College, it is probably safe to assume that many people have been abundantly acquainted with the College’s alcohol policy. Ask anyone who regularly imbibes and they will undoubtedly tell you that Bates has a lax policy, especially when compared to the rest of the colleges and universities in the state. The alcohol policy, many will tell you, is meant to keep you safe, but not to punish you for what is often considered pedestrian behavior.

The 2012-2013 Policies for Student Conduct and Safety details the Drug and Alcohol policy—on the first page, so as not to waste any time—in no uncertain terms. “Bates College observes all laws governing the use of alcohol…and does not condone violation of these laws,” the policy begins. One will note the glaring absence of the word “prohibit.” In fact, the policy only prohibits the consumption of alcohol under the pretenses of Maine law, but merely encourages students to observe the law.

Conversely, Bowdoin College, which has a drug and alcohol policy that extends several pages past Bates’ paltry few hundred words, wastes no time in stating that, “Bowdoin prohibits the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of…alcohol by students.”

Now, this should come as no surprise to anyone. Bates’ policies are decidedly cautionary, allowing students, congruent with most other aspects of the Bates culture, to make their own decisions and reap the rewards, or suffer the consequences, as the case may be. Most students seem to accept and even relish this fact.

One senior, who spoke anonymously, suggested that the alcohol policy keeps students on campus, in a safer environment for their drinking. Specifically, he said, where the heavy-handed policies of other colleges and universities create an exodus off campus where binge drinking is the norm, Bates encourages the more responsible consumption of alcohol by informed individuals in a regulated environment.

There is one expressly forbidden aspect of the alcohol culture in the Bates policy, and that refers specifically to what is known as hard liquor. “Bates has initiated a campus-wide ban on hard liquor,” finishes the short commentary on alcohol. This is where the connection between policy and practice becomes interesting.

Although the college prohibits the consumption of what it calls “hard liquor,”—a term left woefully undefined—anyone out on a Friday or Saturday night will find an ample amount of both liquor and beer at almost any gathering. Is either being abused? I would argue that in most cases the answer is that they are being consumed in a fairly responsible fashion. Are there those who take things too far? Yes, there always are, but for the most part students seem to understand the risks that they are taking, and adequately adjust their own practices.

The data, or what little is available, seems to suggest that Bates students are at least a little more responsible with their drinking. In 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the Clery Public Crime statistics show that there were only 46 on-campus liquor law violations referred for disciplinary action, and about seven more which occurred off-campus. For Bowdoin College, however, there were a total of 149 liquor law violations referred for disciplinary action, according to the Clery statistics. Coupled with the harsher alcohol policy, it seems that Bowdoin refers approximately three times as many students as Bates has for the past three years.

Now, what does this all mean? Am I trying to put Bowdoin down? No, not at all. Rather, I’m trying to illustrate in a concise way that a harsher policy towards alcohol does not necessarily equate with a lesser consumption of alcohol; in fact, the statistics seem to suggest that the trend might be the opposite. My analysis of the statistics is fairly basic, but the global trends are most probably valid.

What are we to make of all this, though? Alcohol and college are two things that are intrinsically intertwined in the American psyche, but the responsible use of alcohol is something that must be learned, often through trial-and-error. The Bates College alcohol policy, rather than just prohibiting alcohol outright, fosters an environment where students are able to make their own decisions and not live in fearbution of the law.

Is this to say that the system is perfect? No, but where the other major option is prohibition, a system which historically has not been so successful, the Bates policy seems to function quite well.

So, as you clean up after that party that you just threw by recycling the beer cans, emptying the half-consumed Solo cups, and trying to scrub the smell of stale beer and vomit from your rugs, consider the options that Bates College affords you as members of this society. Even in your attempts to have fun and unwind, Bates is still trying to teach you about being responsible, and this is the college’s great success.

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