Class Filters Feedback on Drinking Culture, Summit Outpost

By the end of the semester, five students will pitch a plan maximize profits at Summit Outpost. Photo by Emma Brentjens ‘21

Hope Anderson ‘22

Staff writer and web editor

Bright and early on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, many students are en route to Chambers, Wall or another academic building on campus. Elif Kaya ‘19, Kamran Shahbaz ‘19, Hermione Su ‘19, Jesus Ibarra ‘20, and Willem Boelhouwer ‘20 have a slightly farther walk.

Their 8:30am class — an independent study in partnership with Summit Coffee Company — meets in the Hurt Hub. In the classroom, the students act as consultants, advising the Outpost on a variety of assignments, including their revamped late night option. Summit co-owner and CEO Brian Helfrich ‘07 and COO Andrew Kelleher ‘14 attend almost every class, though the course is mostly student run.

Dr. Fred Smith, an economics professor and the course’s advisor, thinks the class’s structure will allow the students to come away from the semester with certain takeaways. “It has provided challenges in ways that a traditional course might not have,” said Smith. “I think they’ve had to learn a lot about group dynamics and working together.”

2018 marks the Outpost’s sixth year on campus and the first year of its new lease. One of the college’s new stipulations for its operation requires that the Outpost be open 11pm – 2am on Fridays and Saturdays (also known as “late night”).

The students’ goal is to make this requirement profitable for Summit and enjoyable to the student body. They are also exploring improvements to the Outpost’s evening culture. One of the reasons Davidson brought Summit to campus in the fall of 2013 was to create, in Helfrich’s words, “a non-Patterson Court, non-Martin Court drinking culture — a place for juniors and seniors to go and have some wine and not feel like they were at a frat party.”

“That never really took off, but I think we’re willing to reinvest some energy and effort into that if we determine there is an appetite for it on campus,” continued Helfrich.  The students sent out a comprehensive survey to the student body several weeks ago and received 471 responses.

According to the survey, each year the percentage of students who agree with the statement “the drinking culture at Davidson is problematic” rises, ranging from 28% of first years up to 58% of seniors. Shahbaz thinks that trend is indicative of spending more time on campus and better understanding students’ relationships to alcohol. “Maybe workloads increase after your first semester, maybe stress increases… that gives into you thinking ‘well, maybe people are using drinking as a mechanism to cope with stress,’” said Shahbaz.

Shahbaz and his peers in the course think the Outpost can provide an alternative drinking environment. “It gives people that don’t want to go to F [Armfield], that don’t want to necessarily drink like people do at F, a place to go,” said Boelhouwer.

During its first year on campus the Outpost opened the entire building during the late night hours, but ran into sanitary issues regarding the bathrooms and unwanted encroachment from “down the hill” culture. “They’ve had experiences where people come in and they don’t respect the space the way they should. That really puts the staff in a tough position, especially if it’s student staff,” said Kaya.

Still, the students think they can create a warm, inviting, and social environment on the patio. They’ve already experimented with space heaters and hope to roll out other changes, possibly including pizza and drink bundles and additional Outpost-sponsored events. At the end of the semester, the students will assemble a 50 page business proposal to present to the company.

The project has faced challenges, one of which is a school prohibition on the advertisement of alcohol. “Candidly, it’s a little counter-intuitive… I understand that [the administration] doesn’t want us to promote a binge drinking culture, but I think anyone that’s had a drink at the Outpost doesn’t think we’re promoting binge drinking,” said Helfrich. “I hope that’s something the college is willing to reconsider over the next five years.”

There are currently no concrete plans for a similar course in the future, but Helfrich thinks Davidson can go even further to promote entrepreneurship. He has proposed to President Carol Quillen that the Outpost be entirely student-run.

“Spending your senior fall learning how to run the Outpost and actually having to run it, I think is amazing, hands-on experience for anyone who wants to be entrepreneurial after college,” said Helfrich. “If [Davidson] really wants to push practical entrepreneurship, then that is a really cool opportunity that I’d be willing to invite students into.”

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