UI seeks input on alcohol message following Anheuser-Busch controversy


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University of Iowa officials are concerned about whether their stance on drinking is clear to students following the renewal of the school’s contract with Anheuser-Busch this summer.

Every undergraduate student at the University of Iowa received an email on Aug. 24 from Tom Rocklin, the vice president for Student Life, containing a survey about how students perceive the university’s message and its stance on alcohol use.

“In the years that we’ve been trying to reduce alcohol harm, we’ve never really checked to see if students understand our position,” Rocklin told The Daily Iowan.

Rocklin said with this past summer’s renewal of the school’s contract with Anheuser-Busch, he began to wonder if the UI was being clear about its position.

“It got me thinking about how well our message is understood and to be clear, our message is when students choose to use alcohol, we want them to use is legally and safely,” he said.

Approximately 1,800 students have already responded to the survey, he said.

The contract between Anheuser-Busch and Learfield Communications Inc. — the sports-marketing company representing the Hawkeye Athletics Department — was renewed in June. Anheuser-Busch can use the Tiger Hawk logo in advertising so long as a message about responsible drinking appears with it.

Learfield will pay the Athletics Department $114 million through 2026. The contract will provide $43,000 for the UI’s alcohol-harm-reduction plan in its first year, the *DI* has previously reported.

Following the renewal of the contract, many community members — including members of the city and university’s Partnership for Alcohol Safety — were in disagreement over whether the agreement reflected positively on the University’s drinking stance.

Jeffery Cox, a UI history professor on the Presidential Committee on Athletics, argued the contract detracts from the Athletics Department’s achievements.

“This beer sponsorship decision undermines our ability to defend the integrity of the athletics program to the public and diverts attention from the good things about college athletics,” he said in July.

Johnson County prosecutor Janet Lyness said displaying a UI symbol alongside alcoholic logos sends the wrong message.

“I think it’s a really bad idea,” she said in July. “It looks like the University of Iowa is promoting it.”

But President Sally Mason defended the contract in a statement.

“The requirement that the possible use of the Tigerhawk logo be accompanied by the phrase ‘Responsibility Matters’ is consistent with our alcohol harm reduction initiative,” Mason said. “The university will continue to emphasize that students and fans should consume alcohol only in a legal, safe, and responsible matter.”

Rocklin created the survey with Sarah Hansen, the UI Student Life’s director of assessment and strategic initiatives.

The survey sent out was the first of its kind and the results will help guide the Office of Student Life in clarifying their stance on student alcohol use.

 “The initial survey will help establish a baseline,” UI Spokesman Tom Moore said.

A second survey will be sent out later this year on an undetermined date. The second survey will show if the UI has clarified their stance to students.

“I think reducing dangerous drinking has been a real focus of the University over the past several years,” Moore said.

Moore maintains that much progress has been made in the past.

High-risk drinking by UI students is the lowest it has been in 10 years, but Moore also admits that the school has a ways to go and wants UI officials to be clear about their message that excessive illegal drinking is simply dangerous.

“Not only is it potentially deadly, there can be long-term consequences,” Moore said. “We want safe, healthy students.”

Many students on campus would confirm Rocklin’s fears that the UI hasn’t always been clear about the fact that the school isn’t completely opposed to all drinking.

“I’ve gotten kind of mixed messages,” UI freshman Mitchell Coleman said.

Coleman said that sometimes he thinks that the UI is completely against all drinking but then other times he gets the message that if students do choose to drink they should have it under control.

UI junior Colleen Peters doesn’t understand why the University has a contract with Anheuser-Busch if they’re trying to rid students’ perception that the UI is a party school.

“Personally I think the whole deal with Budweiser … is a bit hypocritical,” she said.

Although some students say they have picked up on the message the UI has tried to convey.

UI sophomore Brittany Cassel said the university’s stance on drinking is clear because of the College Expectations course first-year students are required to take before starting classes.

“They do want to educate incoming students about alcohol safety,” she said. “They do provide us with the tools and the knowledge that we need.”

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