Alcohol Culture: changing our mindset

This week’s feature story (pg. 9-12) is one of the longest and most in-depth articles the Exponent has produced in recent history. It’s also one of the most difficult to grapple with.

When we first internally proposed the idea for a feature story examining the drinking culture around MSU football games, we expected that in our investigation we would find binge drinking abundant and a plethora of alcohol-induced belligerence prevalent at the games and in the community.

To a certain extent, we did. There is no question that drinking happens at football games. Everywhere you look at the tailgate you see beer cans in koozies and shirts glorifying drinking explicitly or implicitly. A flask hidden inside a jacket pocket is not an uncommon sight even inside the stadium, and walking through the tailgating area, it seems like almost everyone is enjoying an alcoholic drink or two. Indeed, every person we interviewed for the feature story spoke of the rampant drinking culture and indicated they believed a majority of people in attendance were drinking.

However, for the most part, a drink or two might be all they consume. At the 2014 home opener Gold Rush game, only 27 citations were written by MSUPD for the more than 19,187 people in attendance. Numbers from the City of Bozeman also indicate no statistically significant difference in number of calls for service between game days and other Saturdays during the fall.

Thus the story painted by the numbers and the story painted anecdotally are very different, making the problem a nebulous one at best to define, and an even more difficult one to try to solve.

The writers of the feature story, Matt Williams and Davis Connelley, do a great job dissecting this disconnect. But in the internal management and grappling of this incredibly complex issue, we found something we didn’t expect to find: a complex issue.

In our initial musings for the story we expected extreme results, an obvious problem and simple solutions. What we found instead is complex, confounding, muddled, higgledy-piggledy and discombobulating.

Perhaps our misled expectations are based in naivety, but I think that it is more likely based in cynicism.

Looking back over the past columns I’ve written for this space, and general articles we tend to run in the Exponent, a lot of them seem ruled by this skeptical mentality. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and to a certain extent I view the opportunity to vocally disagree and think critically as a crucial part of both this space and the Exponent’s utility.

But when indignation becomes the norm instead of the exception, it’s time for a healthy bout of  self-reflection. And I worry we’re reaching that precipice.

Too often we use our journalistic position as observers as an excuse to detach, arguing that to be accurate we must be separate and objective from that which we cover. But I think this mentality is unfair both to ourselves and to the community we strive to serve. We can neither do the reader nor the subject of our observation justice without first understanding it deeply.

We pride ourselves on the idea of our being the voice of the students, so perhaps it’s time for us to institutionally acknowledge that we are students and allow the faults and benefits that inherently come from that.

Because we are part of the MSU community. We’re students who attend classes, stay up all night either doing homework, working or watching Netflix. We struggle to find a parking spot, and argue with our friends. On the weekends and at football games, some of us party, drink, and  tailgate. And we harm ourselves to forget it and hold ourselves falsely above or separate from our peers.

Because cynicism is easy. It’s much easier to stand apart and attempt to elevate yourself away from a problem by using fancy language and general outrage to cast stones than to realize your own part in its facilitation and solution.

It’d be easy to condemn the people who leave the game after the halftime as more fans of the drinking than fans of the game. It’d be easy to point out all the fans (especially students) who don’t even enter the stadium at all, but instead hang around the tailgate fraternizing as an example of alcohol culture and a deep problem with MSU’s football culture.

But in order to fix the problem — if indeed there is one to be fixed — we can’t afford to hold ourselves above and condemn those around us. If we want to continue this discourse about our community, we need to do it as a community, as groups, and as individuals. At the very least it’s a conversation worth having. And it’s one worth reevaluating with every beer poured during this year’s football season.