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Where are all the kegs, man?

Have you ever seen one of those hefty, banged-up metallic tins with some strange nozzle attached to it? Possibly a group of men sporting some fashionable baggy shorts crowding around said metallic tin, sipping from a red Solo cup? If your media consumption rivals mine in any way, you will know that this is a keg, as seen through the lens of goofy 80s movies and TV shows. Frankly, it is a bygone relic. Kegs abound in pop culture concerning college debauchery, yet they remain nowhere on college campuses today. Now that I am a graduating senior, with many Porch Wednesdays and Thursday college nights under my trying belt, I can confidently say that I have seen no more than a handful of kegs throughout my four years. So, intrepidly, I ask: Where are all the kegs?

Doing some quick Google searches, you can find that Carleton has answered that question for some time now. Carleton’s very own policy is that “No kegs or common containers of alcohol are allowed in private residential spaces (houses, townhouses, residence hall rooms, etc.).” How did this come to be? How did a college campus that was so entrenched in the aura of the keg for the better half of the 20th century fall out of fashion to the extent of generational memories? Ultimately, Carleton’s relationship with and gradual regulation of kegs mimics and speaks to a broader trend in the 80s and 90s: That of worrying more about the private affairs of college students across the country, the consequences of which should be considered now that we stand fifty years from such effective policies. 

The exact date that kegs came to Carleton’s campus is unknown. However, by the mid to late 1960s, the infamous “kegger” had clearly become a colloquial term used by the student body to define a party. In the November 10, 1966 issue of the Carletonian, the author mentions how a “16-gal keg of Old Style” had been “gobbled up” by some upperclassmen, while a spirited article from the February 15, 1968 issue concerning the brawn of an IM basketball team states: “The 2nd Musser bunch can’t claim to be the jock floor…but they feel they can outdrink them in a kegger any way.” This rise of casual references towards kegs and larger parties can clearly be linked to the liberalization policies by the Faculty Administration Committee on Social Policy (FAC) in the Spring of 1967, approved by the Board of Trustees in the summer of ‘67. 

In this newly presented alcohol policy, the drinking of alcoholic beverages would be allowed “in college dormitory rooms by those of legal age,” much to the dismay of grumpy alumni, God-fearing Baptists, and many in the surrounding area. Carleton College was, in fact, the first institution of higher education in Minnesota to allow booze to flood the dormitories, demonstrating the manner in which the administration has sought to instill trust in its student body for a very long time. 

This trust had clearly spawned a new social scene on campus starting soon after the new policy went into effect: Rotblatt, the alumni’s prized treasure, relied on kegs for not only the immense amount of beer consumption but also as the very bases for the softball game; the Cave would sell $1 pitchers and provide a singular free keg at 8:00 p.m. on Fridays; Firehouse Liquors advertised their keg-delivery system to campus in the Carletonian from 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights; and passing remarks about “keg stands” and the irksome “keg-lines” abound in our paper’s archives. The thing that truly stands out for me is the freedom that students felt to showcase the way in which they partied: soft mentions along the lines of a “kegger after the lacrosse game in Sevy” are in no way limited to verbal communication between select students but are made known for all to come. Nevertheless, this apparent freedom to booze would begin to run into external and internal roadblocks by the 1980s. 

The first reconsideration came from the influential group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). By 1984, MADD had convinced Congress to pass the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which sought to punish states that would not push the drinking age to 21 by reducing federal highway appointments by 8%. A further intended consequence of the furor spawned by MADD can be found on college campuses, where administrators sought to regulate the then-national problem of alcohol abuse on campuses, including Carleton College. In a memorandum from Associate Dean of Students for Residential Life Roger Ballou to Dean of Student Cris Roosenraad dated October 26, 1984, Ballou stressed the widespread and tragic misuse of alcohol on college campuses and advocated instituting “clear rules and regulations.”  A year later, then-President of the American Council on Education, Robert H. Atwell, in  correspondence with President of Carleton, Robert Edwards, advocated for a reconsideration of “current policies and practices on [Carleton’s] campus,” going so far as to provide a White Paper illustrating different tactics and their effectiveness. 

A rise in awareness of the deleterious effects of boozing such as violence, property damage and vandalism coupled with Minnesota’s drinking age being pushed from 19 to 21, forced the administration to make changes to the alcohol policy, much to the dismay of the student body and the confusion of the Social Policy Committee. The new policy of ‘86 sought to discourage beer consumption and kegs at the absolutely-adored “Co-op” events, compelled sanctioned parties to also provide non-alcoholic alternatives, tightened rules around drinking at the Cave and imposed a four-keg limit in dormitories the following year. This new policy coincided with efforts from the administration to form activist groups challenging the status quo of binge-drinking, such as Students Advocating Moderation (SAM) and the federally-funded OPTIONS program. These efforts were further put into high gear following the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act Amendments of 1989, which sought to bar institutions of higher education from receiving federal funding if they did not demonstrate a robust effort to curb binge-drinking and dangerous drug consumption. 

Carleton students responded with frustration and confusion: In the March 4, 1988 issue of the Carletonian, select students argued that “limiting drinking isn’t a good thing” as it compels freshman to find other avenues to drink, such as the “Mandarin” in town. By the early 1990s, it is clear that students had noticed the changes to the campus culture, but did not know what specifically was forbidden. In an article published in the September 27, 1991 edition of the Carletonian, students voice their dismay and confusion towards the college’s oversight: “Differing interpretations and varying reactions to the three parties that security visited have prompted debate and concern over what security’s role in enforcement of alcohol policy will be in the future.” Throughout the early 1990s, students voiced their concerns over the seemingly destined keg ban that peer institutions such as Dartmouth College had already exercised, as evidenced by the three articles titled “More beer, less crime say Ben and Sundar” [October 29, 1993],“Kegs are a source of goodness” [November 5, 1993] and “Open letter to Dean Bonner” [January 21, 1994]. 

Through a series of measures over the next 20 years, kegs slowly moved out of the mainstream: It began with Fireside Liquors being unable to bring kegs to campus on the weekends, then progressed to a keg ban for Sproncert and Rotblatt, culminating with a complete keg ban in 2011, with surprisingly little pushback from students. As such, I was left to wonder: seeing as kegs were such a commanding presence on Carleton’s campus for a number of decades, how did students during these times feel about them? I was fortunate enough to speak with two alums from the class of ‘94, who found the keg culture at Carleton all-encompassing. 

“Kegs were very much the norm,” uttered one alum. “There was a distinct party scene; typically there would be a few rooms across campus that would have a keg, one on Friday, one on Saturday, and similar groups of people would come around.” Another alum found the scene “accepting of everyone, with a door open at all points, except for the one guy who would steal CDs.” 

With regards to the weekly keggers, the alums found that things were relatively peaceful: “I do not remember things ever getting really out of hand. Carleton is a community. Everyone looked out for each other. If anyone over-indulged, there were friends that took care of one another.” Moreover, with regard to the much-talked-about binge drinking aspect of kegs, the alums found that “you couldn’t get seriously drunk if you had a ton of people and a single keg. You had to wait in line, it was more sit back and pace yourself. There was a social policing in these larger groups that you simply cannot have with people slamming a bottle of vodka in a small group.” 

Current students seem to reiterate the same claim. One student, Ben Levine ’23, finds that kegs promote more relaxed, lighthearted drinking. “This is where the keg ban comes into play: if we had access to kegs, we could just kick back and drink some beer as opposed to high risk drinking activities like BORGs.” Another student, Zak Sather ’23, does not understand the ban on kegs because “honestly, a bottle of Pink Whitney in the wrong hands is much more dangerous than a keg.”

BORGs, or “Black-out Rage Gallons” have taken the college scene by storm. The claim to fame of a BORG is its ability to get the recipient exceedingly drunk while tasting either mild or, if concocted with a mixologist’s meticulous mind, pleasant. However, as evidenced by a New York Times article “What Is a Blackout Rage Gallon” that details the scene at University of Massachusetts-Amherst where 28 ambulance requests were filed in one day, these new boozy vehicles come with a dangerous price. 

Nevertheless, kegs continue to enjoy some relevance on off-campus premises. Zak Sather and his gang of aging, washed-up housemates living off-campus recently purchased a keg. “We wanted to celebrate the end of our four years, and figured beer readily at-hand would definitely help us celebrate.” The old rooting-tooting excitement has not left Zak as he toys around with grandpa’s old watering hole: “Keg stands are also objectively super fun” and hopefully will never not be.

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