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Oxford officials respond to Green Beer Day in a pandemic

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many Miami University students still plan to celebrate Green Beer Day (GBD).

Typically held on the Thursday before spring break, GBD is a tradition among Miami students where they drink alcohol all day at bars and large parties, many starting as early as 5 a.m.

Students chose to celebrate GBD on Thursday, March 25, a university wellness day.

Every year, university administrators warn students that GBD poses risks to participants who binge drink, especially those who are underage. This year, there is an additional risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. 

As of March 24, Miami has 144  active COVID-19 cases according to the Miami COVID-19 Dashboard

Jayne Brownell, vice president for student life, is concerned about an increase in cases ahead of GBD. 

“If there are a lot of gatherings on Thursday and cases spike, we’ll see that in mid-April just as we were trying to open up in-person events and do end of year award ceremonies and commencements,” Brownell said. “This could put all of that in jeopardy.”

Because GBD is not a university-sanctioned event, Brownell said the Oxford Police Department (OPD) takes the lead in keeping it under control.

Doug Elliott, Oxford city manager, said OPD began putting extra officers on duty 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 24, and will ease up the patrol in the early morning hours of Friday, March 26.

Some officers will be dressed in plain clothes to make sure bars and liquor stores are checking IDs for alcohol purchases. Others will be patrolling Uptown on foot or on bikes to deter GBD activity in the area.

“If it looks like suspicious activity, [students will] probably get stopped [to] check an ID,” Elliott said. “If they're carrying beer down the sidewalk, you can’t do that, so that’ll be dealt with, and if a student is intoxicated, that'll be dealt with.”

Officers will also be enforcing COVID-19 regulations.

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“It’s become apparent that some parties are occuring indoors in large basements, and that becomes a problem because they’re violating [COVID-19 regulations],” Elliott said. “We’re asking students to please abide by our face mask requirement and mass gathering [restrictions].”

The Division of Student Life sent an email to Miami students on Monday, March 22, which warned students of participating in GBD activities, calling them the “antithesis to the idea of wellness.” 

The email also said OPD would be citing house parties with over 10 guests and arresting anyone who is publicly intoxicated.

Elliott said OPD is collaborating with multiple agencies in response to GBD, including the Miami University Police Department, Butler County Sheriff's office, Ohio State Highway Patrol and Ohio Department of Public Safety Investigative Unit.

After hearing word of a large gathering of students outside of Oxford, Brownell said the university and city plan to notify the appropriate local law enforcement. 

Rumors of OPD using drones to catch house parties spread among students, but Elliott said these weren’t true.

Because GBD is held on a wellness day this year, as opposed to a normal class day like previous years,  the university won’t be able to discourage students from participating by requiring class attendance.

“When [GBD] does occur [before] spring break, it happens on a class day, so we are able to encourage faculty to be sure that they hold class that day,” Brownell said. “This year, students, or whoever decides this, decided to pick one of our wellness days, so the messaging around, ‘Please be sure you hold class’ is not going to be effective this year.”

The university is, however, hosting several wellness day events and activities for students in hopes it deters them from partying, including a yoga class, tea tasting and rec center activities.

The main concern for both Brownell and Elliott is the safety of students.

“When we talk about alcohol use with students, we always want to send a message of, ‘If you choose to consume alcohol, please make decisions that keep yourself safe and smart and that keep others safe,’ and there are a lot of behaviors that we’ve seen on this day in the past that have not been safe or smart,” Brownell said, “so it always comes down to student health and wellness and safety.”