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Alcohol gets ‘stamp of approval’ via Shorty’s at Wake For

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (BP)–Shortly after the last gavel fell at the annual meeting of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in November, I made my way over to Wake Forest University to have lunch at “Shorty’s,” the deli/pub that has sparked considerable conversation during the past year.
Shorty’s is located in a corner of the “Pepsico” entertainment complex on the lower level of the Benson University Center on the Baptist-related campus in Winston-Salem. Shorty’s occupies one side of a casual food court that includes a Pizza Hut, a Taco Bell and other fast-food options.
It’s a bright, friendly, unassuming sort of place with tables populated by students, textbooks and laptop computers, far less like a tavern than many of the local restaurants patronized by convention-going Baptists. I bellied up to the bar and ordered chicken and dumpling soup, then followed the server’s advice to add pepper. I passed up the “Black and Gold Club” and the “Deacon Dagwood” for a $3.99 chicken sandwich and washed it down with a Diet Pepsi, including a refill that set me back 73 cents.
Alcohol is not sold before 5 p.m., but its presence is loud, even at lunch. The serving counter sported huge handles on the beer taps and an impressive display of bottled beers and wines. I’ve never bought a beer, but the menu prices seemed high: draft beers ranged from $2.50 for Bud Light to $3.50 for Killians or Fosters. Six different bottled beers were priced between $2.25 and $3. A short wine list held various offerings at $2 per glass. Newspaper clippings regarding the “Baptist Battle” over Shorty’s were posted on the cabinet above two of the beer taps.
I spoke with a number of students, none of whom were Baptist, asking their opinion of Wake Forest’s decision to sell beer and wine on campus. Some students think it’s “cool,” while others consider Shorty’s — as well as the Baptist brouhaha — to be something of a joke. Beer is so expensive at Shorty’s that students go off-campus for any serious drinking, they said. And they don’t understand why selling beer on campus should bother Baptists.
I’m only one Baptist, but I will tell you why it bothers me: serving beer at Shorty’s, even though it is a highly regulated environment, gives the university’s stamp of approval to alcohol. I have read the university’s rationale for the current alcohol policies, and it is carefully reasoned. We should applaud some of the positive efforts Wake Forest has made to curtail binge drinking and “front loading” (heavy drinking before arriving at more regulated events).
Even so, no amount of socially responsible rationalization can obscure the fact that Wake Forest has given its blessing to social drinking as an acceptable, and even expected, aspect of adult life. Even secular schools in North Carolina’s university system don’t do that: State law prohibits the sale of alcohol on campus (with the exception of hotels such as the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill) at any state-supported school.
I recognize that setting alcohol policy is a very thorny issue, and that administrators are attempting to deal with the reality of student drinking. Here is the reality that my wife, Jan, and I know: In January 1994 a beer-drinking driver reduced our 7-year-old daughter’s sparkling life to a crushed and inanimate corpse. That man’s journey into a lifestyle of alcohol abuse, and ultimately into a lethal impact with little Bethany’s face, began with the idea that recreational drinking is acceptable.
But alcohol is not acceptable, not from where I sit. Alcohol and other recreational drugs have spawned most of our prison population and destroyed countless families. Despite its widespread cultural acceptance, beer is a blight upon our nation, and nothing we say can make it OK. Reality says that no Baptist-affiliated school can bless beer drinking in any form and still expect N.C. Baptists to bless it through the convention’s promotional materials.
The relationship between Wake Forest University and N.C. Baptists is rich and deep and wide and long. It has been good for both, and continues to be so. It is worth fighting for.
Shorty’s is a very small part of a very large university, a very recent addition to a very long legacy. Removing beer and wine from the menu at Shorty’s would impact only a fraction of students, but it would send a very important message to all: It is possible to have a full life without leaning on alcohol as a social lubricant.
When the 1998 convention backed away from an immediate confrontation with Wake Forest by approving a resolution commending schools that do not serve alcohol, consensus was that the university had dodged a bullet — for now.
What we must remember is that both the gun and the bullet are in the possession of Wake Forest: If the university’s relationship with N.C. Baptists gets shot, it will be a self-inflicted wound. Policy makers at Wake Forest could benefit everyone involved if they would just unload the gun — not because of Baptist pressure, but because it is the right thing to do.

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  • Tony W. Cartledge