by Anselmo Watkins
A California university is attempting to counter its reputation with students as “boring” and “no fun” by encouraging beer drinking by students on campus.
Whitson State University’s president is the newest member of the Amethyst Intitiative, a group of college CEOs lobbying to lower the drinking age. Whitson State’s new marketing theme: “WSU + Beer=Fun!” began earlier this year after students’ comments in the Princeton Review rated the campus atmosphere as “boring” for the fifth consecutive year, despite previous attempts by the administration to shake the tag by providing extra-curricular entertainment for the student body.
The hope is that telling students that it is OK to drink beer on campus will create a campus atmosphere of fun on evenings and weekends.
“Our research shows that nothing livens a party up like a little beer,” Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Piniella said. “Look, our kids here study hard, and we want them to know that they can have fun right here in Palmdale if they mix in a little beer.”
Located in the town of Palmdale, about 40 miles northeast of Los Angeles, Whitson State University has about 12,000 students and is known for its outstanding academic programs. But according to Piniella, the sleepy community surrounding the campus has few student-oriented clubs, restaurants and bars where the student body can blow off steam. That, combined with the temptation of the bright lights of Hollywood and Los Angeles on the horizon, has made it difficult for the school to shake the negative image.
Since first receiving the boring tag, the administration had tried several initiatives to keep students entertained, including movies, speakers, plays and concerts and promotions at intercollegiate athletics events. The success of these events varied, but none of them were enough to shake the scarlet letter-like rating.
“They had to do something. Our sports teams are terrible. How can you get behind a basketball team that never wins? We don’t have football, and who cares about women’s basketball?” said student Dale Barnes. “The other events were just as bad – speakers on ethics and making good choices. Not stuff I want to see on a Friday night.”
Piniella said the idea to promote beer originated when members of his staff noticed the strong response to a happy hour promotion at the off-campus restaurant and beer garden.
“We discovered that deep fried food and cheap beer seemed to really make the kids happy,” said Student Life manager Frieda Wauffel. “It opened our eyes to new possibilities.”
“We don\’t know if it will make a difference yet, but we have to try,” Piniella said. “College is all about fun these days. We get “very good” marks in educational quality and overall value, but we could have a dozen Nobel Laureates on this campus and it wouldn’t help. If the kids aren’t kept happy on the weekends, you are doomed.”
Barnes said that pregame “tailgating” helped him “survive watching another 8-16 season by our men’s basketball team” and even made women’s basketball “almost tolerable to watch.”
In past years, the school touted it’s location as a major selling point, promoting the fact that it was an hour from the beach, mountains, desert cities, and major attractions, such as Disneyland.
“Look, do you know what that really means? It means we are out in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing to do here,” said Piniella, who added that he has commuted to the campus from his home in an upscale San Fernando Valley suburb everyday for the eight years he has been at WSU. “Hot in the summer, cold in the winter, congested freeways everywhere… God knows if I lived here, I would drink too.”