Ad Policy Blurred For ‘Educational’ Drinking

    Amid the usual collage of loud campus-org flyers and advertisements lining Price Center last week, a refreshing proposition caught the eye. Brand-new UCSD venue the Loft had hung posters — subtly splashed in vineyard-stuffs and suggesting a “vine” tasting — to promote Sip, the first in a series of lesson-style wine tastings to be held in the space. “Indulge responsibly,” it cautioned students, as much a disclaimer as a preview to the alcoholic nature of the evening.

    This crafty avoidance by the University Events marketing department of literally mentioning the presence of alcohol wasn’t just for the sake of wordplay. A campus policy regulating the blatant advertisement of such events came to public light and was put into rigorous effect when Associated Students began holding what have come to be known as Bear Gardens, a series of campus gatherings that offer an opportunity for students to socialize and drink free beer on campus. The first installment’s lower-than-expected turnout on Oct. 20, 2006, was attributed to the advertising policy still in effect today.

    But the difference in regulatory approach between the events by the university is significant. In dealing with A.S. Programming, administration officials haven’t let the smallest of implications slip by. “We can’t even write ‘21 plus bring ID,’” former A.S. President Harry Khanna said in an e-mail to the Guardian after the first Bear Garden in 2006. “We have to effectively hide the fact that there is going to be alcohol at the event.”

    The Loft clearly states at the bottom of their event advertisements that attendees “Must be at least 21 years old with valid ID.”

    As stated by UCSD policy, “Functions at which alcohol will be served may not be advertised off campus or in any way suggest that alcohol will be served at the function or that the function is open to the public.” It additionally notes that “Advertising shall not contain statements or inferences regarding the availability of alcoholic beverages, such as: ‘All You Can Drink,’ ‘Everyone May Drink,’ ‘Wine and Cheese Reception’ or ‘Beer Garden.’”

    Garrett Berg, associate vice president of programming for the A.S. Council, has become more than familiar with the regulations during his time in office.

    “I know the campus policy very well, and this certainly isn’t the first time an exception has been made,” Berg said.

    One such exception took place Oct. 21, 2006, the day after the first Bear Garden. Advertisements for university-sponsored event UCSD Rocks Open House invited students to enjoy Karl Strauss Beer at the ROCKtoberfest Beer and Brats Garden. University officials promptly apologized for the advertising slight.

    To members of A.S., the fluctuations in policy regulation point to an apparent double standard by the university, which favors UC-affiliated events with what are advertised as higher-minded intentions.

    “If the administration plans to continue to ignore [its] own policy, then it’s time for the policy to change,” Berg said in an e-mail. “In my opinion, this policy is outdated and even contradictory. It doesn’t make sense to allow alcohol to be served, but then turn around and deny all advertisement of that alcohol. Most importantly, even if this policy is not overturned, the administration should be held accountable for selectively enforcing such rules.”

    Led by Lindsey Pomeroy, an employee of educational wine-event company The Wine Smarties, Sip’s lesson in wine tasting is designed to stimulate a student’s mind and palate. The class consisted of a small scattering of tables stocked with water bottles and largely unutilized spit-buckets for after the wine had been tasted. Pomeroy stood at the front of the room with a microphone and took the students through a step-by-step in the joys of flavor detection: For the first round, she used a Remy Pannier NV Brut from France to explain the purpose of champagne flutes, the reasons why one doesn’t swirl sparkling wine and how the bubbles “dance with your tongue.”

    According to Berg, Friday’s wine-tasting event was not only allowed to violate campus policy in its advertising, but in the very nature of the evening. Bear Gardens had to be initially reworked to take the focus off alcohol — university policy states that “the consumption of alcohol must not be the major focus of the event” — whereas the only focus at the Loft’s Sip series is drinking, albeit of the educational variety.

    “This policy needs to be revisited now,” Berg said. “It’s unacceptable for A.S. [Council] to be held to policies that the Loft is allowed to blatantly ignore. Former Vice Chancellor Watson defended the policy by stating that ‘Alcohol should not be the principal reason why students attend an event sponsored by the university.’ Unlike Bear Gardens, it’s undeniable that alcohol was the primary focus of [Sip: “Vine” Tasting for Dummies]. There doesn’t seem to be any possible justification for this.”

    During both sessions held Friday — the first from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and the second from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. — each of nearly 50 students was served four glasses of wine. Students at the Bear Garden are limited to two cups of beer within the 3-hour time slot.

    “Last year, we faced a lot of opposition to the Bear Gardens when [Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs] Peggy Rue came in,” Berg said. “She felt that free beer would lead students to skip class.” The gardens are typically held in the afternoon, not unlike the Loft’s new wine-tasting events.

    Two police officers stopped by the Loft on Friday to question event coordinators — who assured them the alcohol consumption was purely educational — and glance over the ID-scanning equipment before going on their way.

    Eleanor Roosevelt College senior Mary Kong, along with six other wine tasting participants at her table, said they found out about the event from the many posters hung in Price Center. Staff at the wine tasting, some of which had also participated in marketing, seemed unaware that implication of alcohol consumption is not permitted under campus advertising policy.

    According to UCSD policy, when alcoholic beverages are being served at a function, a designated official must approve any piece of promotional information. “We are committed to policy, and stand by it,” University Spokesperson Stacie Spector said. “If a mistake was made, it was with another department.”

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