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Article on binge drinking at Gustavus hidden from visiting high schoolers

While top high school students and their parents were visiting Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter for a scholarship weekend in February, copies of the college student newspaper with a story on binge drinking on campus were hidden from their view, according to the Mankato Free Press.

Some of the college’s students removed the Gustavian Weekly from parts of the 148-year-old college — founded by a Swedish Lutheran pastor — because they thought the high schoolers and their parents might get the wrong idea about Gustavus as they make decisions on where to attend college.

The front-page story was about Case Day, in which students try to drink an entire case of beer in 24 hours.

Gustavus senior Mary Cunningham was among the students who removed hundreds copies of the newspaper from locations on campus where the paper might be seen by the high schoolers and their parents.

“I’m not ashamed of what I did,” Cunningham told the paper. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat….It was democracy at its finest.”

But the newspaper filed a complaint, calling the removal of the papers censorship.

The Mankato paper said the article appeared under the headline “BEER. It’s what’s for breakfast…and lunch…and dinner.” It quoted students who liked the all-day party, but also had students, the city police chief and head of college security talking about the dangers and foolishness of excessive drinking.

Results of a hearing on the censorship complaint haven’t been made public.

The Mankato paper did interview the college’s Dean of Students Jeff Stocco:

The Weekly, Stocco says, has “broad leeway” in terms of what it can publish. The administration, in other words, isn’t present during the news-gathering process and doesn’t prohibit the newspaper from publishing articles unflattering to the college.

But the college does have rules, one of which is that the Weekly is restricted in what it can and can’t do with regards to alcohol. Alcohol advertising is not allowed, nor is the promotion of the consumption of large amounts of alcohol.

“So, conceivably, you could charge the weekly with violation of our rules,” Stocco said. “That doesn’t make it right for an individual or individuals to remove copies from their distribution centers.”

Stocco says he, like Cunningham, wasn’t happy seeing a front-page article featuring a large stein of beer. But in a college environment where high-risk drinking has become a deadly topic, spurring dialogue on the topic isn’t the worst idea in the world.

“In some ways, the campus newspaper, you could argue, effectively or not effectively, raised awareness of college drinking,” Stocco said.

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