There’s an old joke that goes – Jews don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Protestants don’t recognize the Pope as head of the church, and Baptists don’t recognize each other in the liquor store.
As funny and exaggerated as that last line is, it does hold an element of truth. In many areas of the Protestant faith, not only Baptist, there is a sort of “see no evil” mentality. A preacher can drink a beer after the ball game on Saturday as long as he serves grape juice for communion on Sunday.
Not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with Christians as a whole, Baptists specifically, or prohibitions on alcohol. They are legitimate and constructive beliefs.
The problem lies when one of those prevents us from acknowledging a glaring and undisputable fact.
The cold hard truth
Baylor students drink.
They do. It’s inescapable. If the presence of bars on this side of town wasn’t testament to that fact then the 10 freshmen arrested for underage drinking the first week of class and the state of 10th Street on Diadeloso should be proof enough.
It’s not anything that we as an institution should be ashamed of or try to sweep under the rug.
Instead, we need to start thinking about how our alcohol policy — and the way that it’s enforced — will affect the future of this university.
Any and all illegal activities are of course punishable by laws higher than Baylor’s policies and are not part of this discussion. Drunk driving, underage drinking and other crimes linked to intoxication should be, and are, heavily discouraged by the university. Any further topics refer exclusively to alumni, students, faculty, staff and members of the community at large who are above the legal age of consumption.
A culture of fear
Currently, as laid out in Baylor’s policy statement on alcohol, it is against policy for “anyone to possess, use, or be under the influence of an alcoholic beverage on the campus or at a University-related activity off campus.” Those caught doing the above can face as little punishment as a verbal warning or as stiff a punishment as expulsion.
As much as one would hope that expulsion would only be used for those students participating in high volume moonshining on the roof of Penland, the language used in the statement on alcohol says that it is an option for even a minor infraction. To the university’s credit, it does say that these sanctions are “commensurate to the offenses and any aggravating or mitigating circumstances,” which after a quick Internet search will tell you that the consequences will — ideally — be proportional to the crime.
More than likely, students caught drinking will face punishments such as probation, suspension or being forced to leave their on-campus housing.
This has created a culture of fear among students that prevents them from turning to the university for health services. There are guarantees of confidentiality — which we have every reason to assume that the university honors — but they ring a little hollow at Baylor.
When you can be punished for drinking it stands to reason that you might not want to admit to the people who might punish you that you have a drinking problem. Who, for example, would answer, “Yes, officer, I’ve had a lot to drink,” when asked by a policeman if they were driving drunk?
The sanctions themselves are not the problem, however. Other universities have similar polices to ours.
The University of Texas, for example, includes expulsion as one of the penalties for the “unlawful use, possession or distribution of drugs and alcohol.”
However, the key word in the above sentence is unlawful. The university’s tolerance of lawful consumption of alcohol paints a much friendlier picture of drinking in Austin.
So we come to a point where the over arching college culture encourages drinking, and Baylor culture stigmatizes it.
This problem is going to come to a head in one big and very public way — the new stadium.
Waco — not so dry
One glaring issue is the multi-million-dollar gift the university received from the city.
Ostensibly the city will reap the benefit of this investment by being able to host events there. However at certain events (major league soccer invitationals, concerts etc.) alcohol sales provide a very large portion of the proceeds. Will the city have to bend to anti-alcohol policies that it doesn’t hold even after donating so much?
Interestingly enough, one of the proposed events for the new stadium is Oktoberfest. While it is possible that nobody quite realized what that particular festival entails, there is one big element of Oktoberfest that would be impossible to include at a dry stadium.
That is a minor consideration compared with the stadiums main purpose — football.
A tale of two tailgaters
Football culture encourages drinking. The beer commercials that fill the space between quarters in professional games are evidence of that.
We at Baylor are trying to encourage a fledgling football culture, and that does unfortunately include the drinking. We opened up tailgating spots for people that want to grill and celebrate before and after games around Floyd Casey and a fair bit of drinking goes on there now.
Of course it is technically not allowed, but it does go on. On a third-party website dedicated to tailgating at Baylor, one of the recent posts talked about the lack of enforcement of the no-alcohol policy.
Baylor can get away with that now since the stadium is on the other side of town, but what happens when we have a legitimate on-campus stadium?
Maintaining the status quo would mean tacitly allowing alcohol consumption on campus, which is not necessarily something that Baylor is prepared to do. However is it worth it to lose the revenue, and the projected revenue from a shiny new program in a shiny new stadium? Baylor stands to make a pretty penny if the popularity of tailgating for games takes off like they hope it will.
Some sobering questions
Before the first brick is laid there are questions that need answering.
Do we continue to allow people to drink illicitly as long as they don’t make a scene about it?
Do we enforce the alcohol policies, potentially forgoing the tailgating revenue, to maintain our dry campus policies?
Is the Waco community going to have to follow Baylor’s rules in a stadium they helped pay for?
Is there a compromise — like allowing drinking only in approved areas and at non-Baylor events — that will allow us to maintain our identity while addressing the drinking issue?
The time is coming for Baylor to face facts. Like dancing, or walking on the same side of the street as a member of the opposite sex, the prohibition of alcohol is something that Baylor needs to revisit.
This is, however, not a call for a keg in the quad.
Instead, it is our intention at the Lariat to bring these issues to the attention of the university and the community at large and hopefully together we can all come up with a solution.