How to Use a Weekly Publication to Educate Students About Alcohol and Media

An advertisement for Old German Beer with the post "How to Use a Weekly Publication to Educate Students about Alcohol and Media"

An (old) Old German Beer advertisement

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Update: The Daily Caller has picked up the story, and the reporter contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for input on free-speech issues.

Read the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Aug. 22 blog post here.

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On Thursday, I was interviewed for a WBTW story that aired on the 11 p.m. news last night. The reporter asked me to explain why I disagree with my university’s decision to ban a local weekly newspaper from campus, a local weekly for which I used to write.

The university’s Vice President of Student Affairs has said she thinks the weekly newspaper endorses alcohol use in its advertisements and editorial content. I think the paper offers much more to students and locals.

During my interview with WBTW, one of the reporter’s questions reminded me of the following quotation:

“Virtue cannot exist without freedom, without the right to make moral choices. By virtue I mean the dictionary definition: moral excellence, goodness, righteousness. Coerced acts of conformity with some moral norm, however good, do not represent virtue; rather, the compliance with that moral norm must be voluntary.” Doug Bandow wrote that in his book, The Politics of Envy: Statism as Theology.

In a similar key, two friends separately have asked the same rhetorical question: essentially, “Whatever happened to individual responsibility?”

That’s a good question. As Bandow points out, when someone is prevented from making a decision or, by extension, protected from the outcome of one’s choice, he or she cannot develop real virtue. A person might be prevented from making a mistake or breaking a law, but he or she is not a better person for not being able to misbehave. Everyone can drive straight on rigid tracks.

In this case, the weekly publication is not the misbehavior in question. Instead, the newspaper provides some information that possibly — just maybe — could be taken by underage students as an invitation to misbehave (assuming students don’t have the legal drinking age, a cultural milestone, engraved upon their partially blank slates).

Certainly, to Student Affairs’ point, bars advertise their happy hours and specials to university students in the weekly newspaper. Additionally, I wrote a column about beer in the same weekly newspaper for 7 years, a column that has now been taken over by an avid local home-brewer.

However, advertisements don’t insure underage students will respond.

Furthermore, when alcohol-related advertisements target college students, bars still maintain their requirements that students provide valid certification of legal drinking age.

People who might criticize the publication’s affection for beer, in my previous columns and the current columns, ought to consider the price tags on most of the beer discussed. Craft beers, made with all the care and artistry of a gourmet meal, are neither easily affordable for college students nor conveniently pounded for a quick black-out.

And, as I contend, there’s much more to the publication than booze.

A smarter approach to Student Affairs’ concerns would be to allow the publication to (continue to) be distributed on campus and to hold a public forum in which administrators, students, and representatives of the newspaper discuss underage drinking, alcohol abuse, driving under the influence, decision-making processes in news media, and the influences of advertising upon beliefs about reality.

That way, the administrators would be free to critique and criticize the publication, and students could hear other points of view.

That would be a way to treat students with respect, and to communicate an important message: you’re no longer children; you’re becoming citizens. You need to think about the ideas, beliefs, and habits in which you participate.

After such a forum, informed students would look at the newspaper with the administration’s concerns in mind.

Thereafter, the students would consider themselves smarter in their own decision-making processes, and perhaps they would use the administration’s points to critically assess the ads and articles within the newspaper.

Students would have a new mental filter in place, one born at least in part of the administration’s thoughts and concerns, one not offered to them unilaterally but rather in the context of free discussion and diverse voices more representative of democratic societies.

The new mental filter would allow students to evaluate all kinds of information when they read any publication.

This would take advantage of a concrete example in the local community and use it to communicate an outstanding message to the students: You’re free to choose, so please make an informed choice. Choose wisely.

That’s a huge step toward maturity — and toward real virtue.

-Colin Foote Burch

(c) 2013 Colin Foote Burch. Reproduction in whole or in part is permitted with attribution to the author.