UC bar won’t end binge culture

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Tim Eggert

“We would down a few Bud. tall boys or finish a rack of Busch and jump into the snowbanks from the second-floor windows. Beer keeps you warm and makes you brave, plus there wasn’t anything better to do in the winter.”

A NMU alum shared this memory with me outside of a bar in my hometown last summer, and I felt a little doubtful as the tale seemed too good to be true. Last week, I re-experienced the same feeling when I heard of President Erickson’s confirmation that campus may be host to a bar in the near future.

At the Winter University Forum, he said, “I think the idea of having a pub on campus is not contradictory to our commitment, but it is a reflection of our recognition that it might actually be better to have legal students on campus have a comfortable, safe, controlled place if that’s what they’re going to do.”

Whether the campus-sponsored cantina actually makes its way into the University Center (UC) renovations isn’t at the heart of my skepticism. At this point the bar is just a concept, and by the time the renovations are completed I’ll have graduated.
My suspicion is if students will respond positively to a place that explicitly endorses alcohol consumption on campus, because booze and the student body are usually perceived as a taboo cocktail.

This isn’t to say that NMU keeps to itself when it comes to disclosing its alcohol policies. On the contrary, it has and continues to be clear about them.

We’re familiarized with the responsibilities and dangers of overconsumption through educational, university-sponsored resources. We take orientation tutorials that prepare us for real-life situations where underage drinking can be problematic in social and legal scenarios. We obtain information from residential advisers and residential directors about dormitory drinking. We regularly receive emails that remind us of the alcohol policy (those who need a refill on the particulars can reference university regulation 2.3.2 in the student handbook).

For the most part, these preparatory materials are effective. But, in many ways they’re not. In 2015, Bridge Magazine reported that at NMU, “one out of four students drank so much at some point in the past year that they couldn’t remember where they were or what they did.”

The study also claimed that although NMU requires freshmen to take a course which
includes alcohol education, “one in four [freshmen] report having unprotected sex or forgetting where they were while drinking.”

In other words, the more you tell young people not to do something, the more they are inclined to do it. But, the university knows this.

Selling beer and wine at hockey games demonstrated that the administration isn’t completely out of touch with students—of course we’re going to drink. Moreover, the alcohol sales were a good first step toward dismantling the stigma and letting students know that it’s OK to drink in college. However, the caveat—and the reality—is that just as many students responsibly consume as do irresponsibly.

A balance is necessary, and it’s a sensitive one. NMU wants to relieve the pressure and fear of drinking in a college environment without fully encouraging it. My fear, however, is that offering alcohol through a pub will simultaneously reinforce and muddle the positive message. Students won’t know whether they should trust or doubt the university when drinking at the UC because the position on alcohol seems
contradictory.

The on-campus bar concept symbolizes a progressive move toward a more inclusive university community and casual environment, but this isn’t the easy fix for reducing the binge-drinking culture. Students need a deeper education on the consequences, one which, unfortunately, comes from outside of the classroom and off-campus.

Sure, it’d be a novel experience to grab a beer with a professor, or walk directly from a final to the bar, but there’s something proverbial about experiencing the local bar scene. A tableau of Remies would never match up with one of the university bar, but, at least students definitely won’t be jumping out of UC windows.