For two weekends in a row this September, the Binghamton University Student Association shut down its Late Nite Off-Campus College Transport (OCCT) service, which offers nighttime transportation between campus and the Downtown area on Friday and Saturday nights, as a result of students acting aggressively toward bus drivers. I was shocked when I heard this news. I became even more disgusted when similar incidents occurred again on Halloween weekend, with students now antagonizing police officers at bus stops in addition to student bus drivers, after the bus line had only just reopened weeks before. My initial thoughts were — what’s wrong with people?

I didn’t mean it literally. That was just my way of saying that I was ashamed of the people who attacked the students and adults who make one of the most crucial services at the University possible — transportation. Then I started to think about it again and actually asked, “What’s wrong with people?” What’s causing this problem to happen, and why now?

I think it’s important to look at this as a social problem and not just as a personal problem. Yes, groups of irresponsible people did awful things that endangered many people around them. However, these incidents happened just about a month apart, and BU saw similar issues a year ago when Late Nite services were also canceled for comparable reasons. These issues were not very common prior to then, which means that there’s something deeper happening than just some groups of students doing bad things. So what’s causing this problem?

The time when these issues began — fall semester of 2021 — coincides with when things started opening back up again after students were vaccinated against COVID-19. It wouldn’t be crazy to think, then, that the pandemic’s psychological effects on people had something to do with this. A group of researchers has recently found significant personality changes in young adults in the United States throughout the pandemic. University of Florida Professor Angelina Sutin and her collaborators say they saw declines in traits associated with maturity, like agreeableness and conscientiousness. They suspect this is caused by missing out on the typical experiences of adolescence that would usually serve as a “training ground” for how to act in the world. People have become less responsible and less able to maturely navigate social situations.

Take these young adults and put them in large groups coming back from frat parties and bars, often intoxicated, late at night — the groups of people who attacked bus drivers and police officers, from what it seems — and the result is an environment that brings out the worst in people. We have also seen an overall increase in violent crime during the pandemic, which can be seen as both a mental health issue, as the personality changes study noted, and an economic issue. Researchers at the Violence Prevention Research Program (VPRP) at the University of California, Davis suggest that this rise in violence is connected to worsening economic conditions.

These economic concerns, as well as general distress from the pandemic, have also been causing increased drinking and drug use, likely as a coping mechanism. Among people who had already been using these substances prior to the pandemic, alcohol abuse has increased by 23 percent while drug abuse has increased by 16 percent, according to researchers at the University of Texas. It’s not hard to imagine how this would set us up for the types of dangerous encounters seen at OCCT bus stops and in buses during Late Nite routes.

People should be held responsible for their actions, and the OCCT could also benefit from policy changes and preventative measures, such as their bans on students found committing these offenses. More police officers being stationed at the Late Nite bus stops could help the drivers. There are indeed bad apples, and I agree with the many students who are voicing their concerns that people need to behave better and respect others more. However, I think there’s something else rotten. What we’re seeing in instances like this signals an increasingly unstable world due to mental health and economic issues, and it means potentially serious consequences for the Binghamton community.

The changes already made should curb potential damage. However, it feels like there’s a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. Many college students drink, but now the students who are drinking are less mature and more distressed. It’s no surprise we’re seeing explosive acts like this. Even if we don’t notice these personality changes in our day-to-day lives, when people are in large groups, they are sure to be noticed. Going out and engaging in typical college behavior is one thing. Ripping bus doors open and attacking other students is another.

If enough drunk, immature students suddenly overpower a bus driver, dozens of people could die. As Annie Dineen, a fellow Pipe Dream Opinions columnist and a sophomore majoring in chemistry, wrote on Nov. 8, 2021, permanently canceling Late Nite buses would take away an important safety service by bringing students back to campus after going out on weekends, as high prices on ride-share apps like Uber may lead to drunk driving. If students keep mistreating OCCT drivers, there’s also no guarantee there will be anyone left to drive the buses either. Student safety is seriously at risk.

If we don’t see these mental health concerns addressed through better funding of mental health care services, as well as the larger economic issues that underpin behavioral instability addressed through the creation of more social support for the lower and middle classes through concrete policies like student loan relief and increased funding for social services and job programs, this may be just the beginning. This has gotten beyond the point of a personal problem for several irresponsible individuals and needs to be recognized for what it is — an urgent social problem.

Max Kurant is a senior double-majoring in English and an individualized major in social systems science.