Survey results show that Bates is no worse off than fellow NESCAC institutions addressing drug and alcohol issues, nor is the number of frequent drinkers increasing despite common misconceptions.
The Bates Student sat down with members of the Campus Culture Working Group last week to discuss the findings the group has gathered since its birth in spring 2015. As Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Josh McIntosh explained, it may seem that the CCWG started as a way to address alcohol related issues but “quickly moved to how do we build a more fun and inclusive student experience and an educated student experience.”
As “the voice of the students,” the Bates Student is periodically taking the pulse of the CCWG to help inform the student body about the group’s progress and initiatives. We hope to disseminate the information the group has produced thus far, consisting mainly of its aggregation of the main concerns brought up by students, faculty and staff on the CCWG and in focus groups. We also discuss observations of its successes thus far and recommendations for future courses of action.
The draft findings are meant to “engage the student community broadly in a discussion” about the three frameworks the committee believes will enhance student life: Campus Life, Education and Intervention, and Student Services.
According to the NESCAC Alcohol and Drug Survey from 2012, data shows that Bates is similar to its peers. However, the CCWG is not using this information to rank Bates, Dean of Students Josh McIntosh explained.
The results of the survey were normalizing, as all NESCAC schools were struggling with these issues. When faced with the question of what next, McIntosh concluded, “Let’s take a far more Bates-focused approach.”
“We were less concerned about comparing ourselves against other people,” said McIntosh to the Student.
The group’s empirical approach also included an analysis of results from the Class of 2014’s Senior Survey Data, hospital transport records, internal conduct data, and mental health and medical services data. CCWG also considered student responses from Psychology professor Su Langdon’s courses, “Health Psychology” and “Women, Culture, and Health,” in addition to various independent psychology studies.
The student voice has played an integral role in CCWG, and the data results have resonated with some members like Keenan Shields ’18.
“It was helpful to see data and contextualize it in a quantified way, where it made the ways the students and staff and faculty talk about Bates more real,” Shields said. “I think a lot of times these problems are really blown up or really minimized.” The data sets helped form a “clearer picture” of what the group’s challenges are and how they could start to approach and address these issues.
The narrative that everybody drinks and everybody drinks a lot on campus was challenged by the data. Or more so, as McIntosh explained, 25 percent of students drink often, but 25 percent rarely or never drink and 25 percent drink moderately. He said that the CCWG also has a “responsibility to the 75 percent of our other students” who do not drink heavily.
The CCWG is addressing these statistics through an examination of Campus (and “off-campus”) Life in order to “create a social culture that better reflects the values of Bates.” This includes incentivizing off-campus houses to bring events and parties onto campus, citing the inevitable disruption to the community. McIntosh and members of the CCWG understand that, while off-campus houses intend to have controlled parties especially for seniors, their efforts are often futile.
Keeping off-campus parties under control is “nearly impossible,” McIntosh said. “There is no way to do it and control it. [Off-campus houses] are taking on so much responsibility.” Students inevitably take on legal responsibility for under-aged students or people they do not necessarily know or want in their homes. This is beyond the normal scope of the college when they opt to host parties in their residences.
While some other aspects of the draft findings require more development, McIntosh pointed out that some things are already underway, like planning and implementing on-campus social events.
Moving events on campus, however, does not address all concerns, one of which being students who do not always feel welcome or comfortable at certain events and traditions. Referring back to the 25 percent of Bates students who rarely or never drink, the CCWG wonders if these students feel comfortable at some on-campus social gatherings. If Bates traditions are considered part of “the shared Bates experience,” then making those events more inclusive should be explored.
The CCWG hopes to “create more spaces that facilitate serendipitous interactions and gatherings to foster community and integration,” McIntosh said. The draft findings propose reconsidering the design and layout of Chase Hall, which has already seen improvements in the OIE, but the group hopes to push for much more.
However, part of creating an inclusive environment is a strong leadership—this is where the senior class comes in. CCWG member senior Emilie Muller believes that this year’s senior class will help catalyze some of these inclusive changes.
“There is a certain amount of campus attitude that is drawn from the senior class,” said Muller. “[They] can be a focal point for attitude on campus. Bates doesn’t fall into the hierarchy that many schools fall into.” Muller argued that because Bates fosters the integration of all class years, the senior class has the ability to spread new ideas, but also to learn from younger students. The CCWG can capitalize on this as the group moves forward.
The CCWG hosted an open forum for juniors and seniors Monday evening to discuss their draft findings and to hear student feedback. It will host a similar forum this evening in the Mays Center tonight at 8 p.m. for sophomores and first-years. Drawing on comments from these forums and an online survey distributed via the Bates Today, the draft findings will be revised after deliberations. According to McIntosh, the CCWG will “end the academic year with a sense of clarity.”