Athens gets a lot of national attention, but this is one of those times when we probably don’t want it.
A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article highlighted Athens—long known as a drinking town with a football problem—as the poster child for binge drinking.
The article tells the story of how Athens came to be drowning in booze through the eyes of University of Georgia Police Chief Jimmy Williamson, former fake ID kingpin William Trosclair (whom Flagpole profiled in February), bar owner Mark Bell, UGA health official Liz Prince, alcohol-free party planner Adam Tenny and tailgater Jason Bening (whose Libation Station was featured in a Flagpole photo gallery last month).
Here’s a taste of the Chronicle piece:
Athens, home to the flagship university and some 120,000 people, could be almost anywhere. This college town, like many others, celebrates touchdowns, serves early-morning cheeseburgers, and pours many flavors of vodka. When the sun goes down, some students get hammered, just as they do in Chapel Hill, Ann Arbor, and Eugene.
But here in Athens, everything is amplified. The temptations for young drinkers are plentiful, and the penalties can be severe. Enforcement is vigorous, and so, too, is the university’s commitment to prevention. Alcohol is a big business in town, with costs and benefits. Each bottle delivered on the eve of another weekend represents a love-hate affair, an abiding ambivalence about drinking.
It’s an uneasy equilibrium, with competing interests. There are determined police officers and resourceful entrepreneurs, business owners and health educators, students who reject drinking and alumni who embrace it.
As alcohol keeps flowing, each one has something at stake. Each one has a hand on the valve.
As is usually the case when national publications parachute into a town, there isn’t much here that Athens residents didn’t already know. And to be fair, our party-school rankings ain’t what they used to be.
Our predilection for boozing is a big problem—it’s a major contributing factor in sexual assaults, for example. But as the Chronicle points out, it also fills Athens-Clarke County coffers to the tune of millions of dollars a year, employs thousands of people and helps keep the local economy afloat. That’s a contradiction we haven’t done much to grapple with as a community.
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