My three years at the University of Maine have taught me that whenever alcohol is involved in a situation, you don’t involve the cops. Period. Many students think the same way. This is a very dangerous idea, this lack of trust in those who are sworn to protect us.
The difference between policy and practice is problematic. The University of Maine Police Department (UMPD) is in fact quite good, and I think as far as university officers go, we have some of the best. More often than not they do let the small stuff go. What they are ultimately concerned about is student safety. Every intervention of UMPD in our lives, even in the middle of a good time, is motivated by an obligation to keep us safe. I can’t get mad about that, and you shouldn’t either.
Really the problem is students. No, I don’t mean because we drink alcohol.
Our inherent issue — and that of any college population — is a fear of speaking out. When things go too far and someone has had too much, we are rarely the ones to call for help — at least when it is still a manageable issue.
At that point, before things get out of hand and someone is seriously hurt, it is 99 percent of the time a Resident Assistant (RA) or police officer who intervenes: people whose job it is to handle these situations. Calling 911 is a last resort. By the time that number is begrudgingly called, the situation is already out of hand and people have gotten hurt or ill.
That’s a huge problem for our community. Students should feel comfortable with sitting back to let the professionals deal with drunk people.
Now part of that problem is sub-par education on how to help someone who has had too much. (What do you do when your friend is throwing up blood at a party? For example.) However, a much larger part of it is our fear — completely rational — of confronting a situation in which we could be reprimanded for calling UMPD to help.
And I will reiterate: UMPD usually ignores the small stuff when there is a bigger safety issue at hand. The sad thing is, that means nothing when university policy specifically threatens those who would be complicit in a situation they solicit help in.
Take party hosts for example. UMaine Alcohol Policy, section seven, subsection A, 1.c: “Students of any age, including over the age of 21 CANNOT furnish a place for students under the age of 21 to consume alcohol.”
Yes, that’s the law and providing a place for underage drinking definitely should be discouraged. But, this provision dissuades anyone who hosts a party from calling 911 when a guest is messed up. In most cases, the ones hosting bear the burden of hospitality, and they are in fact the ones most likely to look after guests.
The rest of UMaine’s alcohol policy is similar, in that clauses, while appropriate in their denouncement of illegal or dangerous activities, refrain from saying what to do when those activities get out of hand. They imply the only way to stay safe is to avoid these things — the same argument in line with “abstinence is the only 100 percent effective birth control.”
The solution is to first recognize that a policy outright denouncing all interaction with alcohol will never stop college students from drinking. Second is to mend the policy so that it is more in line with reality, so that students know they will not be punished for requesting help. Right now, it only unnecessarily propagates fear.