The Great Beer Heist of 2016 – Quentin Cohan

On January 19th, a Williams student, a junior who is underage, bought 5 cases of beer (150 beers in total) from an area liquor store, and brought them to Prospect House basement at 6:30 pm, where he hid them behind a few couches, in anticipation of a Williams Beirut League event that was scheduled there for that night. When he returned at 10:00 pm, they were gone. What follows is not the tale of an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist, or a Holmesian whodunit, but rather a curious tale of abuse of power on our otherwise (supposedly) cheery campus.

Another student, an of-age senior, who was present at the WBL (an annual beirut, or beer pong, tournament/league involving roughly 100 students–the author included) event that night described the confusion over the missing beer as a bunch of people walking around “with their heads cut off.” Amidst the chaos, the junior who bought the beer and had hidden it–from both Campus Safety and Security as well as other students–in that exact spot on two previous occasions, said that his first thought was that another student had taken the beer, so he walked through the entire building on the off-chance that somebody else had been, like him, stupid enough to leave 150 beers out in the open. Nobody had.

This unaccountable disappearance prompted the senior to then call CSS to inquire as to whether or not they had taken the beer. They had. The senior then went to speak with CSS in an attempt to “get the beer back,” which was unsuccessful as the officer he spoke with claimed to have already poured out all of the 150 beers. The senior noted that he did not think it was a problem for the officers to take the beer, but that they should have given them back.

On January 6th, Dean Sarah Bolton sent an email to the student body in which she laid out the College’s new alcohol policies. The new standards, which students have, anecdotally speaking, agreed are very reasonable and lenient, stated that “beer…must be in single serving bottles or cans,” and that “no more than a total of 120 servings of alcohol or up to twice the room capacity, whichever is less” is allowed at events on campus. Therefore, the junior had acquired one case of beer too many to be allowed at a party or gathering according to the College’s new policies. The CSS officers, then, acted as they should have in accordance to the new laws of the land–this is not the question. The question at hand is what should have happened once the beer was confiscated.

This is the section of the article where the reader would reasonably expect to see quotes from a CSS officer, or perhaps even CSS director Dave Boyer himself, explaining their decision-making process regarding this incident and other similar type incidents, but the (repeated) requests for an interview with Mr. Boyer have gone evaded and ignored. Therefore, I am forced to present, directly to, you, the reader, some of the questions and hypotheticals I had planned to put forward in the interview. The main line of questioning stems from the fact that CSS acted unilaterally, expecting that it would not have to explain its actions. Though CSS was following the rules, this does not mean that these rules aren’t open to interpretation, and that it could have acted in a different, and more reasonable, manner.

Consider the following scenario: An of-age Williams student who comes from a family where neither parent went to college and both work service or blue-collar jobs–meaning the student did not have the disposable income for alcohol or other “vices” and luxuries, and realized at a young age that the only way out of the her/his family’s debilitating financial situation was to disregard such things and focus entirely on doing well in school in order to attend the nation’s top liberal arts school, and, perhaps, from there a top graduate school. This student then works even harder at Williams with the goal of getting into, say, Yale Law School–and does! on the strength of a 3.9 GPA in philosophy, and recommendations from professors and employers who write that this student is “nothing if not exceptionally intelligent, and, more than that, motivated.” In addition to a top jurisprudential education and the career prospects this provides, Yale will also cover the cost of said education because the student is so exceptional and it’s Yale. So, now the student, who, forget about celebrating the end of the week, has barely even celebrated his/her own birthdays, now decides to throw a party to celebrate the fact that she/he can finally–after basically ten-plus years of non-stop, Sisyphean, hard work–relax, just a little bit, just this once, and splurges on $80 worth of beer for his/herself and some friends.

You probably see where I’m going, but, before we get there, let me just make a few things clear: (1) This hypothetical in no way resembles the situation at WBL on the night of January 19th; (2) The hypothetical student (and the real student mentioned earlier) should have known better than to (a) have more than 120 drinks, or (b) at the very least, not put them altogether; (3) CSS acted correctly in taking the beer.

The problem, then, comes in the fact that CSS confiscated the beer (either by stashing it away for their own use, or, as they claimed, pouring it out), without allowing anybody to account for it, or considering the small possibility that the reality was actually much more joyous and harmless than they imagined it to be. I don’t know if such a student as my hypothetical actually exists at Williams, but, had it been me, I would not have been very pleased; I would have been crushed. CSS exists for the students’ benefit, and is much more tolerant and friendly at Williams than at any other school from what I have heard, but that does not mean it should be allowed to run around unchecked, working as judge, jury, and executioner.

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