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Bar crawling on the morning of graduation might not be a possibility this year, if Cal Poly and the City of San Luis Obispo have their way.
Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey and Mayor Jan Marx, representing Cal Poly and the city, respectively, sent a letter to the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association asking bars to refrain from selling alcohol before 9 a.m. on the days of commencement: June 14 and June 15.
“Over the past several years, Cal Poly has experienced an increase in the number of students that are intoxicated, disruptive and disrespectful during our commencement ceremonies, Cal Poly’s most honored tradition,” the letter reads. “All too often, the commencement ceremonies are overshadowed and become unsafe due to the conduct of intoxicated students who have visited city bars prior to ceremonies.”
The idea for the letter came during the university’s process of revamping commencement, Humphrey said. A number of faculty expressed concern about intoxication at commencement and attributed the issue to students going to bars before the ceremony.
Similar requests have been made by University of California, Davis and California State University, Fresno.
In previous years, students haven’t been able to walk during commencement because they were too intoxicated. They have also fallen and hurt themselves during the ceremony, Humphrey said.
Humphrey hopes students will “remain focused on celebrating commencement in the manner their faculty requested,” rather than going to bars before graduation.
“I think (the reaction) is mixed,” he said. “I think a lot of students want to make sure they have an enjoyable commencement experience, so we don’t want folks who are being disruptive.”
Humphrey approached Marx and explained the issue of students being intoxicated at graduation, Marx said.
“I wasn’t even aware of the problem, but ceremonies in the past have been interrupted by students who have had a bit too much to drink,” she said.
Marx thought it was a good idea, and they worked together on a draft of the letter before sending it.
There has not been a response from bars or the Downtown Association, Marx said. The city or university can’t require them to do anything, but she said it was a request for them to do the right thing.
The Downtown Association confirmed it has received the letter, but does not yet have an official statement, said Jennifer Behrens, the promotions assistant for the Downtown Association.
The association’s food, beverage and services committee will meet May 13 to discuss the letter and make a collective decision, Behrens said, but the Downtown Association would not be able to enforce the request.
“This is just a request,” she said. “We can’t make decisions for businesses. They have use permits that they are legally allowed to do what they want. The city is just making a request, basically like a favor.”
If downtown establishments are open to the idea, the university would ask that they maintain the request every time commencement comes around, Humphrey said. But he added he hasn’t been in town long enough to know what to expect.
They are trying to appeal to the role of local bar owners as citizens of the community, Humphrey said. He didn’t want to speculate on the exact economic impacts of taking away early morning drinking during commencement, but said he didn’t believe it would “make or break” a business.
Bars typically open earlier on holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day, which can result in “a lot of really unlawful and antisocial behavior,” Marx said.
To ease the situation, the city has doubled fines during past holidays. Though no one has made that request yet for graduation weekend, Marx said it’s possible that the university, a resident or councilmember might bring up the issue at an upcoming City Council meeting.