Several schools in the UW system are having conniption fits
this week regarding the presence of alcohol near their students.
UW-Madison is dealing with some bad PR regarding the
presence of an “I’m Schmacked” video, which depicts students (and some parents)
binge drinking during parents weekend. The “Schmacked” crew alerts various
college campuses as to their upcoming stops via Twitter and requests retweets.
The party bus then stops at various locations, filming students in their
natural habitat (bars, frats, the usual…) dancing, drinking and preening.
The students didn’t disappoint the voyeurs. Lots of hot
dudes, leggy Coastiesand enough booze to stock all the bars along State Street
filled the four-minute video.
Meanwhile, UW-Oshkosh is bracing for its annual bacchanal
event: The Pub Crawl. Students purchase T-shirts that list local watering holes
on the back. Purchases at those places lead to people getting “checked off.” The
goal is to have your whole “drinking team” finish the shirt before the alcohol
The university has long distained this event, asking the
city to find a way to cut it off at the knees. This year, the university went
as far as to release a statement thanking the city for its “unanimous
objection” to the event, leading many to think the city rejected an application
for the crawl’s event permit. It turns out, it wasn’t even close. The city
approved the event 5-1.
The city has distained the event, but council members keep
approving the event permit for a simple reason: The event will happen with or
without the permit, but a permit allows for additional security and other basic
strictures. The permit coordinator is responsible for financing the additional
police and EMS-type requirements for the event. Thus, the city doesn’t have to
pay for these items, provided the permit applicant ponies up, which is not
always a given.
In both cases, the official dudes/dudettes, who were acting
in their official capacity, were shocked, stunned and saddened that students
were likely to engage in this behavior known as drinking. Furthermore, they
were quite disappointed that the drinking that did occur was of a binge variety
in which alcohol was consumed in ways that indicated people drank the booze to
get drunk, as opposed to quaffing for taste and the robustness of higher-level
Because we’re all sure that’s how they rolled during their
college days. Those great wine and cheese parties at Delta Gamma Sigma and
those bourbon-tastings outside of the stadium each weekend were surely
something to behold.
If ever there was a disconnect between reality and college
administrative folk, it’s perfectly captured in these back-to-back paragraphs
from the “Schmacked” story:
University officials and Madison Police said they did not
note any unusual activities or gatherings during Parents Weekend. So whatever
was captured on the video did not reflect anything that does not otherwise
That said, “The kind of behavior in that video doesn’t
represent most Madison students, even on a home football game weekend,”
said Sarah Van Orman, executive director
of University Health Services.
I’m in an odd position in life, and I admit this. I’ve got an
8-year-old kid who is starting to enact the behaviors that used to drive my
parents nuts when I did them. We just had a parent-teacher conference that caused
such serious flashbacks, I swear the guy slipped me a tab of acid. I’m not any
more thrilled that my kid is screwing around in school than my parents were
when I did it. I can even hear my father’s voice echoing in my own as I told my
daughter that “We’re not throwing away good money to have you sit there and
screw around in class.” Eeesh.
However, I also spend a great amount of time with college
students who are, on the whole, decent folks who work hard, pay their bills and
probably drink as much as I did when I was in college. Maybe.
I wasn’t the kind of kid who was in the “Schmacked” video,
primarily because I wasn’t pretty enough to get into those parties and I didn’t
own a nice enough car to impress a girl to overlook that fact. Still, I
remember ponying up for the “$5 drink ‘til you die” specials at a Madison bar.
I also vaguely recall buying really shitty beer and drinking it in someone’s
attic or basement while putting the moves on some random girl. I’m not saying
it was smart, but I’m not trying to ignore the fact it ever occurred.
When the kids in the newsroom ask about stuff like this, I
tell them the truth: It was part of growing up. I explain that I had more than
a few bad nights and that I paid dearly for them in some cases. I was lucky as
hell there was no Internet and that the only problem a cell phone could cause
me back then was a drunk dial to an ex or my parents. Eventually, I grew out of
that life phase because I hated how I felt the next three days after
particularly bad benders and my liver had threatened to file for divorce at one
I admit all of this, not because I’m an old guy trying to relive
the glory days of screw-cap wine and Natty Light Ice, but because honesty is
the best policy. I don’t want to come across as “holier than thou” when it’s a
safe bet that I was worse.
That’s hypocritical and sad and it does more harm than good.
My grandmother used to tell me stories about how she smoked
with her left hand as a teenager because great-grandma demanded to smell my
grandma’s fingers every day to check for cigarette use. She always checked the
right hand, but never the left, Grandma would say.
Grandma would then pause the story, take a drag off of her
BelAir that had been resting in an ashtray full of butts and cough up a lung.
She made her point without layering on a “That’s One to Grow
I don’t want my kid to grow up to be like me in many cases.
I also don’t want the college kids I know and care about to put themselves in
harm’s way. I know heavy drinking can rip the crap out of your body, put you at
odds with the law and increase the likelihood of dangerous physical outcomes.
I’m not just talking about sexual assault or pregnancy. Every Monday, a couple
kids come in with bruises, cuts or scabs, reminders that drinking and running
don’t mix well.
Still, more than a few of my fuck ups taught me valuable
Had I not attempted to drink the western-most coast of
Cancun dry at the age of 17, I probably would have never learned to respect
alcohol’s risks. If I hadn’t overreacted to every perceived slight ever levied
at me in a college newsroom, I probably wouldn’t be as good at diffusing
tension in the newsroom I advise now. If I hadn’t tried every angle to increase
the likelihood of getting an A without doing a ton of work, I’d probably miss
all the plagiarism, “phantom sources” or 14-point periodsI see each term.
Instead of telling kids what you want them to do, tell them
what you actually did. They might actually learn the lessons you so desperately
want them to understand.