116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
About this time of year in 2009, there was a controversy afoot on the University of Iowa campus.
It was football season and Bud Light had recently come out with a line of “fan cans,” which had no team names or logos but featured school colors for various colleges, including UI. Campus leaders in the midst of a campaign to reduce risky drinking did not appreciate it.
“The sale of black-and-gold-colored beer cans in this market is clearly an attempt on your part to create the impression that the University endorses or has acquiesced to your promotion of this product. Please understand clearly: We were never contacted about this promotion, and, if we had been, we would have registered our strong disapproval of the concept,” then-UI President Sally Mason wrote in a letter to Anheuser-Busch’s corporate responsibility office.
That strong disapproval would be gradually sloshed away over the following years. By 2012, UI signed an agreement allowing Anheuser-Busch to use UI’s Tigerhawk logo on promotional materials. When the company released black and gold cans again in 2019, there was no objection.
And this past Saturday at Kinnick Stadium marked the beginning of a new era for UI’s relationship with alcohol: Beer and wine were available for sale inside the historic venue.
When it’s a 50-something-year-old man in a Hawkeye sweatshirt puking on himself and passing out on the sidewalk, it just hits different.
UI is one of many U.S. colleges that have embraced alcohol in recent years. What changed? They dressed up drinking as something respectable and slapped logos on it.
Iowa City’s 21-and-older ordinance for bars — imposed by the City Council in 2010 and upheld by public referendums with support from UI officials — was the centerpiece of the community’s response to perceived problem drinking near campus.
It worked by their metrics, helping drive down dangerous drinking among students, as measured by survey data. With the young undesirables put in their place, UI and Iowa City started to ease up in their campaign against booze.
Iowa City in recent years has sanctioned outdoor drinking events such as Northside Oktoberfest and the Downtown Block Party. In exchange for a small fee paid to the business community, the city grants you permission to imbibe outdoors like a free American, at a designated time and location.
There is a key difference between Pedestrian Mall bars on Friday at midnight and a Kinnick Stadium tailgate 10 hours later and a mile away. One is dominated by young adults while the other attracts a much wider population — the kinds of people who have spending power and might donate to universities.
Students — and the federal aid dollars they bring to town with them — are the lifeblood of Iowa City. Yet their typical student behavior is condemned when they do it, but tolerated when their parents do it on a few special days each year.
You see, it was never really drinking itself that campus and community leaders were concerned with. It was young people drinking. When it’s a 50-something-year-old man in a Hawkeye sweatshirt puking on himself and passing out on the sidewalk, it just hits different.
By the way, sir, have you heard about our legacy giving program?
(319) 339-3156; firstname.lastname@example.org