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ISSUE 120 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 2/23/2007

Turn on the taps in Buntrock

By Stephanie Soucheray
News Editor

Friday, February 23, 2007

After four years of life on the Hill and four years of writing for the Manitou Messenger I can accurately say that no story, no collective narrative has enraptured the students of St. Olaf as much as the drinking policy. Every few months, maybe once per semester, it seems like the debate surfaces and leads students to gather around the proverbial water cooler to air their grievances: Why can’t we be like other schools? Why are we dry?

Last semester, the gripe-fest was inspired by a documentary called “Why Dry?” The film was shown in Viking Theater and was the culmination of the upper-level Media Studies class. In the documentary, President Anderson ’74 says that he consumes alcohol in his own home, which is owned by the campus. This admission is of course protected by some bylaws of the college which state that the president’s house is an “island” on the otherwise dry campus. Students noted the hypocrisy.

Then in came some e-mails to the Manitou Messenger, written by student volunteers in the coat check rooms at Christmas Fest. They claimed that bottles of wine were being handed out as presents to members of the Board of Regents, and that St. Olaf administrators were present at this gift-giving, which would of course violate school policy about having any alcohol in campus buildings.

Provost and Dean of the College James May says that he has never seen faculty or administrators imbibe on campus in the 30-plus years he’s been with the college. The bottles of wine at Christmas Fest were brought in by alumni who happened to be vintners and who brought their Christmas presents with them. The bottles of wine shouldn’t have been on campus. But what could they do?

I know what they could do: They could sell them. After much debate in the Messenger office, after talking to friends and faculty and after examining again those curious shot glasses sold in the St. Olaf Bookstore, I have developed a modest proposal to amend the drinking policy.

St. Olaf College should begin to sell alcohol at campus events and in Buntrock Commons. That’s it. The sale of alcohol means an end to our days as a dry campus, but it brings the promise of profit. And in the face of a new Science Complex and an increased national profile, St. Olaf College needs the money now more than ever.

Imagine if the Lion’s Pause had two taps and could charge an exorbitant $5 per cup of beer at a concert. I’d buy some, and so would other 21-year-old students who can consume alcohol responsibly and moderately among their peers. Imagine if the Bookstore stocked, next to those curious shot glasses, bottles of special St. Olaf Christmas Fest wine produced by that vintner alumnus. (Can’t you just see the Ole lion on the sticker label?) The Norwegian sweater set would go crazy for a nip of the stuff and would gladly buy two bottles for their cousins up North.

Imagine if on Reformation Day, the student congregation could sell cups of Luther’s ale. It was Luther himself who said “Strong beer is the milk of the old,” and what better way to lubricate some generous alumni giving during Homecoming week than with a premature Oktoberfest?

I understand and respect students who wish to keep the campus dry or who wish to avoid consuming alcohol. I also understand the concern of administrators and members of the Board of Regents who say that it is too risky to allow 21-year-olds to drink in close proximity to underage students. More than dangerous, it’s illegal for the underage students to partake. Administrators know that drinking happens in the residence halls every day, often in an unhealthy way, but it’s been my observation that the College is too set in its tradition to ever rethink the drinking policy completely.

So, let’s lose that battle. Let’s keep the dorms as dry as they can be. Let’s keep the RAs and JCs with their clipboards and knocks on the door for noise violations. Let’s keep the binge drinking and the culture of punishment and the secrecy that permeates this campus on most weekends. Let’s keep all the unhealthy traditions but alter one: Begin the sale of alcohol at campus events.

Even if it’s just to alumni and even if it’s limited to the Bookstore, once the college acknowledges that alcohol can bring in money, we’ve won the war. We’ve made the campus wet. I’m sure President Anderson would agree with John Donne, who wrote that “No man is an island, entire of itself.” And no campus can claim to be a campus if it is separated by alcohol-inspired topography.

News Editor Stephanie Soucheray is a senior from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in English and in history.

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