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Op-Ed: Residents near Bates College should feel safe in their own neighborhood

A man steps out his front door into a puddle of vomit. A girl drunkenly slur-shrieks at a police officer, then starts chasing and pounding on his vehicle with her fists as he pulls away.

A swaying, slurring boy who has just been ejected from a party puffs himself up and yells at a police officer, “Do you know who I am? Don’t you know who I am?”

An intoxicated girl in stilettos chases her visiting sister down the street, shrieking, “Where do you think you’re going? I’m telling mom! You are completely ruining college!” She repeatedly bangs her head on the nearest vehicle and starts sobbing.

A mother has to shepherd her young child away from the broken glass on the sidewalk, as they kick through stretches of smashed plastic Solo cups. A man comes frighteningly close to being beaten to a pulp by a drunken member of a sports team who is held back by two friends, who are a just bit less drunk.

Houses, steps, bushes and lawns are urinated on, night after night. Music is played so loud you can be awakened out of a sound sleep and feel the bass vibrating in your heart half a block away. An elderly woman laments that her newly planted flowers have been trampled and destroyed. Gangs of drunken students are perched on 100-year-old slanted porch roofs, some even ordering delivery pizza; sheets scrawled with graffiti are hung from windows.

Inebriated kids ring doorbells and run away, shrieking with glee. Night after late night, drunken students are taken from single-family homes by the police, while Bates Security observes from a distance. Upon exiting (“I can’t believe this is happening! I was just getting started!”), they quickly light up their smartphones to see where the next party destination might be. Uncountable, roving gangs of drunken children scream at the top of their lungs. Night after night after night . . .

Lest you think I am dramatically condensing events that happened over months or years, I have some news: each incident described above was observed or reported within the past six weeks on one otherwise peaceful, tree-lined street near Bates College. The common denominator of this behavior, which has become the norm in the residential neighborhoods surrounding Bates College, is this: alcohol abuse.

Binge-drinking children do all kinds of things that they would never think of doing while sober, nor do they remember it the next day. Blackouts and hangovers wash it all away; most of them are never required to face consequences for the abusive behavior they inflict on the many families who are not “just passing through,” but have chosen to make their lives and homes, sometimes for decades, in a neighborhood they have the right to enjoy and feel safe in 12 months out of the year, not just three during the summer.

The administration of Bates College, while spouting empty, grandiose platitudes about its commitment to the community, has shown itself to be a hypocritical enabler of the worst kind of destructive, self-entitled behavior of its students, many of whom are perfectly wonderful while sober.

Hedonistic, abusive behavior is tacitly tolerated as an inevitable norm; as such, it is not curbed in any meaningful way that alleviates suffering for the victims. While Bates continues to invest in fancy buildings (including two new luxury dorms that house surprisingly few students, considering their size), its administrators have conveniently exported the worst of its students’ behavior to the neighborhoods outside of its campus borders, fully and repeatedly admitting to long-suffering citizens that “no one should have to put up with such behavior under any circumstances” and touting a system of “progressive discipline” that has had precisely no impact on the steadily worsening experience and property values of neighborhood residents.

At last year’s convocation, Bates President Clayton Spencer told her new charges that a liberal arts college such as Bates is a wonderful place to “learn empathy.” Really? If that is the case, then Bates might want to start trying to learn and show empathy in its own backyard.

Maybe next year will be better. Maybe not . . .

Maura Murphy

Lewiston

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