Making Things Worse: Bates Botches It…Twice

Gabriel Coffey

Don’t you just love academic institutions that tout an egalitarian student-first pedagogy, innovative spirit, and vibrant sense of community? Well, then, Bates might not be the right place for you. 

Or rather, in light of Bates’s recent decisions, make some noise. The actions I would like to direct your attention to include the closed-door decision on the academic setup for next fall, and the general disenchantment with Bates’s “Campus Safety” surrounding their vague enforcement of campus policy and COVID restrictions in recent weeks.

The first instance is indicative of an institution-wide inability by Bates to engage in a dialogue with their students about their classroom experience and the contradiction this presents. Bates voted in a closed-door meeting a couple weeks ago, without taking into consideration the opinions of students, to continue with the module system. A mere two days later, Bates said that they would reconsider this decision. 

Despite widespread frustrations with the module system and the volatile nature of the pandemic, Bates’s decision speaks to their impatience and lack of listening skills on something as delicate as a global pandemic. Yet, the real irony lies in the fact that Dean of the Faculty Malcolm Hill, in citing the reason behind the decision, said it was implemented to “protect flexibility.” Of course, optimal flexibility could be attained by waiting to make the decision on the academic schedule, as was done this summer. Following an announcement by the Biden administration that vaccines would be available to college-age folks, there has been musing over the reconsideration of the decision. 

And just like that Bates is back to square one, only now we are aware of the college’s lack of student-administration dialogue and impatience. Yet, this lack of transparency and understanding of its own students is even more visible and threatening, and recently reared its teeth.

When “Campus Safety” restrained a student playing Jenga with his friends, who were from different dorms and were drinking alcohol, in Rand Hall, I was appalled. Yet, my personal anguish and disgust doesn’t get at what these actions say about the attitude surrounding health code enforcement at Bates. That is, COVID restrictions and general school rules are not enforced equally, run counter to mental health needs, and are an overly zealous and futile venture. 

Based on another video where Dennis Skinner, Lead Campus Safety Officer, detailed the divergent treatment of students of color at Bates by Campus Safety, we begin to see just how unequal that treatment is. By saying “Not saying that you would do it or somebody else, but if a person of color lies, guess what? They’re gonna believe that student over us,” Skinner has illuminated a troubling idea we are now forced to grapple with. That is, students are treated according to the set of biases harmful to students of color.

While most humans hold a set of biases, Campus Safety is hired to enforce the rules set by the college, not their own biases. Furthermore, the enforcement of policies should never make students feel unsafe, no matter the nature of their transgressions. If a group of students who tested negative for Covid three times during the week decide to have some drinks together in the middle of the Maine winter, when depression and suicide rates increase, then there shouldn’t be a policy in place that demands the physical restraint of said students. 

Nonetheless, the policies should still be enforced as stated in the public health codes that were signed by students at the beginning of the year. It is not Campus Safety’s job to let some students go, pursue some with the threat of violence, and treat students of color unfairly. Rather, it is their job to report and take names of students violating policies, and leave the repercussions up to Dean of Students Joshhua McIntosh. 

And yet, it is here where the cyclical nature of Bates’ problems comes to a head. In an email characterizing the incident in Rand, McIntosh said, “The incident on Friday resulted in the Campus Safety staff member restraining a student.” By saying this McIntosh is not condemning the unnecessary use of force by the officer in question. In doing this McIntosh provides a  contradiction to his later statement in the email that the video promulgating differential enforcement based on race is inherently bad. The video explicitly outlines how officers don’t report cases that involve students of color, which in conjunction with McIntosh’s silence in the email and thus vindication of use of force, creates a perplexing paradox where students of color could be detained, with force, off the record. By merely deeming the video fraught without understanding its implications on campus-wide policing, McIntosh is showing the tenuous nature of his claim, and thus his detachment from “Campus Life.” 

After a year of Covid and the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, you would think that Bates would see the intersection between them. Whether it be in talking about the upcoming academic schedule or enforcing health guidelines, it is clear that Bates does not “engage the transformative power of our differences.”