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Responsible drinking event has possibility to create real change

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JANUARY 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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UI junior Greg Pelc should be applauded for his efforts to exemplify and encourage responsible drinking habits. His Jan. 22 SoBar Experience — and events similar to it — has the potential to improve the alcohol culture on campus.

He and approximately 25 students hit 3rd Base, 111 E. College St., vowing to drink without over-consuming. Pelc’s effort to change the drinking culture on campus by example could stand to make a real, lasting change in student drinking habits in a way that UI- and Iowa City-imposed punishments cannot.

Pelc and his peers didn’t set out on that day to convert or preach — their goal was simply to have a good time. The UI junior, who is a resident assistant at Burge Hall, sees the SoBar Experience as a viable way to spread awareness and help others in the same way that he’s helped those from his hall.

(Full disclosure: Pelc is a cousin of Opinions Editor Shawn Gude. Gude did not write or participate in the discussion of this editorial.)

The UI has traditionally taken a hard-line approach to curbing dangerous drinking habits. Its attempts to bring down binge drinking include imposing hefty fines on dorm-room drinkers, threatening expulsion from residence halls, and mandating alcohol-education classes. The effects of these actions have been debatable, and it’s clear they haven’t fostered a healthy student relationship with alcohol.

For UI officials, it’s a difficult subject. Promoting more responsible drinking habits (even among those of legal age) is still seen as akin to condoning drinking — something that would make even the most progressive university official skittish. The prospect of combating alcohol abuse with responsible drinking is essentially seen as promoting abstinence while disbursing condoms: From the public’s eye, it is giving permission to engage in the very act they are attempting to control and discourage.

Events such as the SoBar Experience can bridge the gap between public distaste and actual results by promoting safe drinking while avoiding the public-relations constraints the university is tied to.
In a way, it’s like the Dark Knight.

One of last summer’s biggest blockbusters made it abundantly clear that the caped crusader, played by Christian Bale, is no hero. His unconventional tactics and crude punishments force the police to consider him a criminal, despite his efforts at cleaning up crime being more effective than their own. Because he owes no explanation to the public, he’s able to break the rules for the sake of justice. And Gotham City is better for it.

Pelc certainly isn’t masquerading around town and beating down binge drinkers, but he’s fighting overindulgence in a way that the UI cannot publicly support. University officials cannot explicitly encourage drinking, even if the overarching theme is to promote responsible consumption.

But the SoBar Experience may be far more effective at creating real change than the university’s policies could ever hope to be.

What cannot be changed through threats of repercussion can be altered through strong leadership and peer influence. The SoBar Experience leverages this to initiate a shift away from dangerous drinking toward responsible, controlled consumption. Students and UI officials alike should see Pelc’s SoBar Experience as a positive move.


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