By Aaron Stiles
Every college has a fight song. Some may be similar in lyrics, and most are similar in spirit, may even be the same song but with lyrics changed. All are energetic songs designed to get the crowd’s blood boiling with pride for their alma mater. NMSU’s fight song is unique, however, because it’s one of the only college fight songs to reference alcohol and drunkenness.
“… And when we win this game,
We’ll buy a keg of booze,
And we’ll drink it to the Aggies
‘Till we wobble in our shoes!”
Ironically, the lyrics, as well as the song itself, first appeared in an October 1921 issue of The Round Up. Prohibition was in effect at this time, in essence making the song “illegal.” Through the mid-20th Century, the song underwent many changes but none of them were as popular as the original. Today, the Aggie Fight Song is just the same as it was printed in 1921.
But, as seen last year with the furor created over the Confederate Flag, simply because something is historical does not necessarily mean it is inoffensive.
There hardly seems to be a day when the media headlines don’t incorporate some mention of alcohol-related death on a college campus, or a tragedy or a crime happening as a result of alcohol. Moreover, college campuses are often inundated with anti-bingeing propaganda, and NMSU is no different.
The Wellness, Alcohol and Violence Education (WAVE) program at NMSU disseminates immeasurable amounts of information about the dangers of drinking in excess. Such information is seen on fliers tacked to billboards, corkboards, and taped, pasted, or stapled on surfaces all around campus.
WAVE began at NMSU in the fall semester of 2005, and was a merging of two former campus programs: CHOICES, an alcohol-abuse prevention program, and the Violence Intervention Program (VIP).
How are students to interpret WAVE’s presence on a campus whose fight song may or may not encourage excessive drinking?
“It does put forth contradicting norms,” says Meg Long, a program specialist at WAVE. “One of the things we work on a lot is social norms. For instance, when we do our surveys (on campus drinking) every year, (according to our survey) the average student drinks two to three drinks a week, but then we ask students how much they think their classmates drink, and they think they have nine drinks a week. So what students perceive in terms of normal drinking versus what is really normal drinking is something that we try to correct.”
Further, Long said the question of whether WAVE’s presence and the NMSU fight song are contradictive is “a tough one.” She says WAVE focuses on a harm-reduction approach to drinking. That is, educating users of harmful substances, such as alcohol, on the effects of the substance, though not necessarily promoting they stop using that substance.
“(The Fight Song) clearly does not support the harm-reduction approach, in regard to binge drinking, that we focus on,” Long says. “It is a touchy subject because a lot of people talk about (the Fight Song) in terms of tradition, less than really looking at it and saying, ‘If we are (singing) about drinking until we can’t walk, what message is that sending to the students?’”
This question is not insignificant.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014 published a study comparing alcohol-related deaths in each state per 100,000 people between 2006 and 2010. The study found New Mexico had an average of 51. 2 alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 people, the highest in the nation. The lowest rate was in New Jersey, with 19.1 deaths per 100,000.
Despite such statistics, Long says in the three years she has been working with WAVE, neither she nor the program has not been approached with questions or concerns about the fight song.
The last time any concern as to the appropriateness of the song was raised was in 2003.
“The last few years, we’ve had some alumni say that New Mexico is one of the worst states in the nation for driving while intoxicated,” said Debbie Widger, former alumni relations director at New Mexico State, to The Associated Press in 2003. “Earlier this year, we attended an alumni function in Denver, where once again the topic was raised.”
Widger took the issue to NMSU’s Panorama alumni magazine, which surveyed alumni on whether to change the fight song’s words.
“Several years ago, a national magazine (though it does not specify which and research by The Round Up/Oncore Magazine turned up no results) suggested that New Mexico State University had the most politically incorrect fight song in the country, particularly citing the words ‘We’ll buy a keg of booze / And we’ll drink it to the Aggies / ’Till we wobble in our shoes,’ which have been perceived as promoting excessive alcohol consumption,” says the poll. “We turn to you, our alumni, for advice on whether to address this issue by adjusting the lines in question, or to leave them as they are.”
Widger told the AP there had been “pretty strong opposition” to changing the song from some younger alumni. Evidently, as the song has remained the same, the majority response to the poll was not to change the lyrics.
No poll has been taken since and no concern has been raised as to the appropriateness of the song, even though New Mexico has long been one of the worst states in the country in regards to alcohol-related deaths.
“New Mexico’s total alcohol-related death rate has ranked 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the U.S. since 1981; and 1st for the period 1997 through 2007 (the most recent year for which state comparison data are available),” says the New Mexico Department of Health’s website. “The negative consequences of excessive alcohol use in New Mexico are not limited to death, but also include domestic violence, crime, poverty, and unemployment, as well as chronic liver disease, motor vehicle crash and other injuries, mental illness, and a variety of other medical problems.”
Since 1990, a table on the DOH’s website reports, the alcohol-related death rate in New Mexico has stayed within the mid-40s to upper-50s, reaching an all-time high of 59.7 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014.
So what do students at NMSU think of the joint presence of WAVE and the fight song on campus?
“I think it’s a good thing that WAVE is here,” says freshman communication disorders major Brook Suneson.
Suneson says a lot of people in her experience are uneducated about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, which WAVE can help change. She told an anecdote of a student nearly falling down the stairs in the football stadium because he was drunk. Suneson said she would recommend changing the alcohol reference in the Aggie Fight Song.
“I think (the fight song)’s pretty funny,” says Alicia Pacheco, a freshman nursing major.
“I feel like it implies that going to a football and drinking are tied in, that it’s something you’re obligated to do.”
However, influence of the song really depends on the person, Pacheco says. Pacheco said
“The whole song kind of does influence a little bit more drinking, but then the WAVE program is helping people to prevent it, so I feel like in a way they kind of balance each other out,” she says.
Pacheco does not recommend any changes to the fight song, but advises people not to take its message too literally.
For now the Aggie Fight Song will stay on the playlist, with no change to the lyrics.