Day 3 – On Drinking and Higher Ed – #100DaysofHigherEd

For today’s topic I want to stress, this is not an anti-alcohol consumption post. I like a good beer or a glass of wine, maybe even the occasional bourbon, especially after I have had a good, hearty meal. As I write this blog, I am enjoying a nice Hefeweizen at a local brewery. But I feel like there is something that we need to address as COVID starts to slowly descend past our lives and we start to come back out into the world. The topic is how much we tend to use the same enticement measures we discourage our students from using to get our faculty or staff to attend a function and that is the inevitable question, “will there be wine?”

Now, for many of us that question can often be less about the actual beverage and more a commentary on the level of stuffiness the gathering will be. “Will there be wine” tends to denote that the event is more social than formal, a chance to relax, have a nice conversation, maybe indulge in an arepa or two. So, I totally get it. Here is the problem, after coordinating such events for going on six years in my current role one thing is for certain, I cannot host an event without it. I would be considered uncool.

Before the world of COVID pushed everything online when I would plan a function the first question we would have to answer was, does the venue or space allow alcohol and do we want an open consumption situation or drink tickets. News flash, it is always drink tickets. Not just because of liability and over consumption but for cost controls. But again! This is not about that. I am not someone who is opposed to having a glass of wine and talking shop.

Here is the point of this blog post, I find conference and reception consumption to be rooted in something less obvious, most of us never really grew up from our college days. As a person who works in the career development and employability space, I have started to ask the same question of everyone I meet, how did you find your way to this job? I find that it really loosens up the conversation, people like discussing their journey and inevitability it gives you insight into where people are centered. When that discussion is with SA Pros or faculty there is usually come version of, I really liked the college experience and so I wanted to make it a career. And that resonates because that is my story. I was an involved student at East Carolina and loved being involved and I wanted to advise students like I was advised, with care and enthusiasm. And this, I feel, is why we ask, “will there be wine.”

I have a theory that most of us are in a constant state of arrested development from our college days. Afterall, I still ask my friends what they are doing after the semester ends and they let me know that they sell insurance, they do not have semesters anymore. But here I am, waiting on Spring Break. And I feel that the need to maintain certain Caste systems of college life. Depending on how one got to this place in their career we still feel connected to that overinvolved kid, the nerdy research assistant, the fraternity guy, or resident assistant. And for some reason we either feel a need to keep the party going or to make up for lost time. If there is not wine, there then it is just not cool. So, we want to meet at the bar during the conference, we make sure we use our drink tickets, and we make small talk and then interrupt that small talk to stand in a long line only to ask for “a Makers and water” like we really like that.

Look, once again, I am not opposed to enjoying wine at a reception or a beer in the bar and I will most certainly meet you there when we can gather again but I think we just need to be more aware of this desire to do so and put it in its proper context. We tell our students all the time, you do not need alcohol to have a good time or be engaged so maybe the same rules can apply for us. Tell, you what, next time a colleague suggests meeting at the lobby bar during a conference, suggest meeting for milkshakes at Five Guys around the corner and see what reaction you get. I think at that time you will understand how we got to, “will there be wine?”

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