Chief John McCandless of MUPD remembers the years when students died from alcohol-related incidents. The Oxford community dealt with “some real tragic things,” he said.
“We’re not trying to make it so people don’t have fun, but we’re trying to avoid a tragedy,” Chief McCandless said.
McCandless’ attitude is in reference to Green Beer Day, a 67-year-old tradition that falls on the Thursday before spring break. Miami University students start celebrating Wednesday night, wake up early on Thursday, go to bars and house parties and enjoy a green beer before breakfast. Many students then party hard all day, drinking to excess and skipping classes.
Miami is known for its drinking culture; in 2017, it was ranked the third best party school in the nation on Niche’s Top Party Schools list. In January of that same year, 18-year-old Miami freshman Erica Buschick died from alcohol overconsumption after drinking excessively the night before.
Since then, however, there have been no alcohol-related student deaths, according to MUPD records. McCandless said he’s seen changes in students’ drinking behaviors over the past few years, especially in regard to Green Beer Day.
“(Green Beer Day has) definitely changed a lot over the last five or six years; it’s gotten a lot tamer,” McCandless said. “I don’t know if the lore has worn off—it ebbs and flows. We just haven’t had real problems related to it for the past several years.”
Statistics support the claim that Green Beer Day has declined in vigor and excessiveness. According to Oxford Police records, in 2009 there were 14 underage drinking charges on Green Beer Day, while in 2018 there were only nine. In 2009, there were also 13 disorderly conduct charges, 18 littering charges, and 11 open container charges. In 2018, on the other hand, there were only four, three and two charges respectively. The only charge that has increased in frequency between 2009 and 2018 is noise, from five violations to 21.
The one outlier year is 2017. This was the same year that, a month after Erica Buschick died, 21 Miami students were hospitalized due to excessive alcohol consumption. On Green Beer Day a few weeks later, there were 26 underage drinking charges, the highest number since 2009.
Lt. Lara Fening of the Oxford Police Department agrees that students have been slightly more responsible. Part of the solution, she thinks, has been increased pressure from Greek organizations on younger members to not go uptown and drink while underage.
“It was such a different experience last year (2018), because I think it’s true that the fraternities and sororities have pushed for young members to stay away from the bars,” Fening said. “The bar atmosphere was so relaxed, it was refreshing — you had these of-age, older juniors and seniors that would make conversations with the officers that made the bar checks. That never happens.”
Fening also credits the toned-down drinking culture on Green Beer Day to the increased alcohol safety awareness that’s spreading throughout campus. On Sunday, March 17, Fening and six others in the Oxford community agreed to sit on a panel for an Alcohol Safety Forum hosted by the Associated Student Government (ASG).
Last year the forum drew a large crowd to the 500-seat Wilks Theater. This year, there was a delay in relaying information about the event to sororities and fraternities, and no Miami students showed up to the forum.
“It was a missed opportunity,” Fening said. “It’s not that it wasn’t of interest to people, it’s that no one got the message.”
Fening described points that she would’ve made during the presentation on alcohol safety. She discussed keeping parties contained and controlled, usually by having at least one “sober and responsible being in charge.” She also mentioned tips for what residents can do when “things go south,” saying how in the past some parties have called the police on themselves because the event spiraled out of control.
“They can truly see that this is becoming out of hand and something bad has the potential of happening,” Fening said.
Fening’s last point was about alcohol consumption and the threat of overconsumption. At the end of the day, Fening said that “the welfare of the person affected is most important” and urged people to make smart decisions about how much they choose to drink.
She even said that in some ways Green Beer Day is a better alternative to partying hard at the bars on a weekend because of the choice of drink.
“I know some in the Oxford and Miami University community would rather the students drink beer than hard alcohol,” Fening said. “You don't have that high tier intoxication that you would with shots. They won't get as intoxicated as quickly on beer, so some people will be happy about that.”
Claire Wagner, director of university news and communications, reiterated the university’s stance on Green Beer Day.
“Green Beer Day is NOT a Miami University event,” Wagner said, “it’s an Oxford event. To the university policy, it is a school day.”
For several years, Wagner said, faculty have been sent a notice about Green Beer Day leading up to the event, asking professors to “run their classes as regular classes… and expect students to attend.”
In recent years, the university has also pushed for professors to provide “work for which there is accountability” or for which students receive a grade on Thursday, Wagner said.
“We’ve always had the educational aspects, but we do have new modes of educating students,” Wagner said. “We've had more student groups doing peer to peer educating… and the fraternities have more education and more rigid standards. Possibly it’s the influence of extra communication and awareness.”
Despite the subdued nature of Green Beer Day in recent years, police still took precautions to ensure everyone’s safety. Officers from both MUPD and OPD were out in full force, but this year the only assistance they asked from outside police departments was from the Ohio State Highway Patrol. McCandless of MUPD stressed that drunk driving is one of the issues they paid special attention to as people prepared to embark on spring break.
“If you’re partaking in (Green Beer Day), don’t get in a car and drive to wherever you’re going for spring break,” Chief McCandless said. “Don’t get behind the wheel when you’re done (drinking).”
One key difference between this year and last year’s police activity is that Oxford Police Department’s jail is still under construction and was not ready for use by Green Beer Day. That meant anyone arrested had to be transported to the Butler County Jail in Hamilton if they needed to be locked up.
“They probably wouldn’t go to Hamilton unless they were really misbehaving, very uncooperative,” Fening said. “The last thing we want to do is taken an officer out of the circuit for an hour and a half to transport someone to jail. We will, but we’re hoping to get compliance from the people who are being cited so they can just be cited and released,” she said Wednesday.
On Friday, Oxford Police reported that they had issued seven criminal citations and or arrests, for alcohol-related violations during the celebration, six traffic tickets and 30 party-related citations for such things as noise litter and public nuisance violations. “I think tickets we wrote were very minimal. I think the weather helped a ton because because things really didn’t get started until mid afternoon, in terms of parties,” Fening said.