Liquor stores thrive in a college environment like Ann Arbor. Sporting events and consistent partying throughout the school year make it a prime place for a booming alcohol economy, representing a portion of the state of Michigan’s $123.8 million in gross liquor sales as of March 2020. But there is a clear asymmetry between college alcohol culture’s profitability and the community’s interests in the mental and physical health of its students.
Central Campus offers a host of liquor stores: State Street Liquor, Champions Party Store, Campus Corner and Blue Front Ann Arbor, to name a few (all located on some of the most frequented streets on Central Campus). Although clearly in demand, is it morally permissible to sell so much alcohol so close to designated learning spaces and student housing?
These liquor stores’ proximity to student hubs reveal that the University of Michigan’s commitment to alcohol moderation education such as “Stay in the Blue” only puts a Band-Aid over the pervasiveness of college drinking culture. It is obvious that these stores are designed to sell to not only the adults that come to enjoy athletic events each weekend and of-age students, but also potentially to the underage students that are excited to party two, three and even four to five nights a week.
The truth is, college drinking culture is ingrained into the economic fabric of Ann Arbor as well as college campuses across the United States, and this is done through institutionalized social norms bonding drinking with celebrations and social connection, something that students desperately crave after a year and a half in a pandemic. Football, basketball, hockey, fraternities and sororities, the end of midterms, holidays and more are all celebrations that are intrinsically bound to copious consumption of alcohol. Even parents’ weekend is often an opportunity to hit the beer bong with mom or dad, which can further normalize students’ drinking behavior.
Some may argue that college drinking culture is far too widespread to attempt to reduce it by restricting alcohol sales within a certain radius of central campus. However, the belief that “that’s just the way it is” does not justify the moral implications of literally placing alcohol in front of underaged students. The U.S., even amongst its growing educated population, is plagued by alcoholism. College students are far from exempt. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 33 percent of college students who drank alcohol in the past month admit to binge drinking, or consuming 4 to 5 drinks per occasion for women and men respectively. The high rate of overconsumption is not without systemic cause. Alcohol is a social institution enabled by economic landscaping and social norms. Specifically, alcohol is a university institution.
It would be naive to assume that this behavior stops when students graduate — the average college graduate spends $760 on alcohol annually, while those with a high school diploma alone spend $276. It is no surprise that due to the habit-forming nature of alcohol, excessive drinking habits are shown in studies to carry on years after graduation.
If the Ann Arbor community prides itself on an atmosphere that produces responsible, healthy citizens, then it ought to reconsider the impact of making alcohol excessively accessible to its students. Local legislation restricting liquor sales, at least at the very heart of Central Campus, would send a message that the city wishes to discourage, rather than encourage, the risks of alcohol abuse on its campus.
The fact that college campuses such as Ann Arbor deem it appropriate to place scores of liquor stores in close proximity to students is a sign that college towns’ priorities align more with economic gain than its damaging social effects. Because of this, an end to university alcohol culture is currently nowhere in sight. The powerful ties between athletics, celebrations and alcohol are mirrored within students’ social interactions with each other, with alcohol often being the glue between friendships and social traditions. Our parents and home communities hope that we students will go off to college and return as better citizens, but a work-study environment laced with booze is likely to produce just the opposite.
Alexis Hancz is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.