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EDEL: Expanding our idea of spring break

The way the administration and students discuss spring break lacks nuance

Somehow — miraculously — out of the frigid maw of this February we have emerged onto spring break. Some people are excited to fly to Europe, some to service trips in the American South or in Central America, some to Cancun and Florida to sit on beaches and drink and still others home to rest. I’m just excited to see my cat.

But safety is always a preeminent issue during spring break — as Dean Groves’ recent email and the latest issue of the Stall Seat Journal remind us. Going to other countries is dangerous. Drinking is dangerous. Have a buddy. Make sure to eat food. Wear sunscreen. This is all very good and deserves repetition and due consideration, but, in the University’s constant admonitions of caution, they are perpetuating the clichéd, “22 Jump Street” stereotype of spring break — at times to the detriment of other options.

There’s no doubt the spring break stereotype is a stereotype for a good reason. According to Orbitz, 55 percent of college students are planning to fly to some warm destination for spring break. Las Vegas heads the list, followed by Cancun. Panama City Beach, Florida, the apparent 12th most popular option, has a website filled with pictures of exactly what I thought spring break was when I was 12. Dean Groves’ grim warning to stay away from “Molly” (i.e. ecstasy) represents the fact that, for many, spring break is the long-awaited chance to forget the rigor of classes, the stab of a Charlottesville February and the peril of another round of midterms.

And that kind of spring break is great. Fun can’t be overrated, but a lot of students don’t have the money to travel to Mexico or the Keys, or don’t identify with that type of party culture. They’ll be going home, going on a more service-oriented or sober trip or just staying in Charlottesville. Ultimately, the opportunities to do something else abound. One can go on Alternative Spring Break and, debates about the value of a week-long service trip aside, help others. One can even try to bankroll the trip through fundraising. One can go on a road trip, or just hang out with hometown friends.

But the problem is, the University is not doing enough to advertise these alternative options. Everyone knows they exist. There have been posters around Grounds for months advertising alternative options. But they only get vague, token references in University emails and publications. In Groves’ email, the Dean recognizes that a “significant number of students choose not to drink alcohol, especially when under the legal age” — a reassuring reminder that it’s okay not to break the law — but it’s specifically said in the context of facilitating the behavior of others who do wish to drink. Groves encourages non-drinkers to “sign the pledge not to drive after drinking and look out for their friends:” the underlying assumption is that if a student isn’t drinking over spring break, he’ll definitely be by others who are — an unfair assertion which entirely dismisses other choices. I realize the intention of Groves and the Office of the Dean of Students isn’t to solely promote the traditional spring break experience but, in effect, his email is doing exactly that — marginalizing alternative spring break options as a side effect. Although it’s not the express job of the University administration to publicize alternative options — many of which are student-organized — and more their job to ensure student safety, they should match their coverage of “traditional spring break” with a touch of other options.

Currently, given that the administration sends emails to the entire University listserv, it is simply perpetuating the spring break stereotype on a school-wide scale. University-published infographics, like this one, provide a valuable reminder of party-protocol — but in a vacuum, it just reinforces the conception that spring break is about ditching the parka, donning the swimsuit, getting horribly sunburned, blowing hundreds of dollars and drinking a lot of alcohol. The University has an easy opportunity in the future to vindicate students not going to Cancun. It just has to give them a nod.

There’s no reason administrators can’t do this, but there are many reasons why they should. And if that extra bit of coverage convinces some to pursue other avenues of leisure, that’s a victory for an administration looking to downplay the University’s party culture in a post-Rolling Stone era.

Brennan Edel is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at b.edel@cavalierdaily.com.

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