Minors Kept to Daytime Networking Events

Liquid courage attracts many to after hours networking events, leaving minors from all walks of life out of the conversation.

By Aascot Holt, Staff Writer


If a student started college at EWU before the age of 18, they are likely to be barred from university-funded networking events.

The popular university-promoted off-campus networking event, the EWU Young Professionals Network, attracts high-profile guests quarterly. No other networking event, dry or otherwise, garners that reputation.

EWU Foundation Associate Director of Alumni Relations Leah Mow is the key organizer of these events. She explained that her department holds most of their events, including the EWU Young Professionals Network meetings, in bars because they want the flavor to be “casual, fun and high-energy.” She reinforced that the event’s target audience is EWU alumni, though a secondary audience to the events is present EWU seniors.

Mow said the department also chooses bars because they are free. She said that it is a better system than holding the events in other establishments because the department does not have to hire a caterer, there is minimal setup and in the end it is a matter of ease. “We just pay for the drinks and we pay for the appetizers and that’s it,” said Mow.

The most recent EWU Young Professionals Network meeting was held at Scout, a bar and restaurant in downtown Spokane. Scout did allow those under 21 to attend as the event was held in a dining hall, but the department had not bothered to ask, according to Mow.

Mow said that from now on, the department will advertise if an event is open to those under 21, but minors will not be a targeted audience. “It’s on our radar now,” said Mow.

As the Cheney Free Press states, the average EWU student enters the university as a freshman at just over 18. The Washington State Office of Financial Management reports EWU students take 5.3 years to earn their undergraduate degree on average. This means the quintessentially average EWU student graduates as a 23-year-old. This allows them to begin participating in alcoholic networking events in the fall quarter of their junior year.

Past running-start program participants have even more of a hurdle to jump over than the average student. If a student started running-start as a 16-year-old and maintained the same time to graduate, they would graduate as a 21.3-year-old. That leaves just two months as an EWU senior with the opportunity to participate in networking events that include alcohol.

That is assuming a spring birthday, though. Many running start students could graduate, and even begin their careers, without the opportunity to attend these networking events because they are not old enough to drink.

Virginia Hinch, director of Career Services, said that age does not just create educational and personal challenges, but professional challenges as well. She said that it is assumed young professionals and college graduates are over 21 years of age. Bars are a popular theme that seems to work well, and that may be why they are so commonly used as a professional setting. She said that she does not think alcohol needs to be present in order to create a casual, professional environment.

“We’re missing a group of students who would love to be there but can’t,” said Hinch.

She said that any time alcohol is served in a bar off-campus rather than an all-ages venue or on-campus, it may be to avoid accidentally serving underage students. It is the bar’s responsibility to card the attendees, so the university is no longer liable for any mistakes this way.

Hinch said that the alumni relations department is working with Career Services to bring present EWU students to EWU Young Professionals Network events to begin a mentoring program. If the program gains traction, this could be a major problem if they do not change the event locations. She suggested that networking events in general that choose to have alcohol present might want to change from a bar locale to a restaurant instead.

Hinch suggests that minors who still wish to pursue networking independently should try joining LinkedIn and LaunchPad. LaunchPad is a regional and city-based website that allows online groups, connected either by proximity or profession, to set up gatherings for networking. Hinch assured that many of these meetings are sans-alcohol.

For the Inland Northwest LaunchPad site, go to: www.launchpadinw.com. For the Spokane LaunchPad site, go to: www.launchspokane.com.

She said that before May’s EWU Young Professionals Network meeting, Career Services will be holding an instructional seminar about how to network in a bar setting. The instructional piece will be available to all ages, though the networking event will be 21 and older.

Barbara Baines, running-start operations manager, said that networking is particularly difficult for those students who wish to teach at a high school level straight out of college due to the age similarity.

She said that alcohol is present at many professional social events because it is a societal norm, not because it is needed to create a fun environment. Baines added that the assumed relaxed and casual environment found in a bar might be an intimidating environment for those who choose not to drink for either personal or religious reasons. If in a situation that promotes consuming alcohol, then one is more likely to get asked multiple times why they are not drinking, and that can make things awkward. “It’s interesting how, culturally, we can discard someone who chooses not to drink and put it in a negative light when really it’s quite a healthy choice,” said Baines.

In response to changing a networking event venue to something where it is a choice to drink, but minors are allowed, like a restaurant, Baines said, “Duh, no-brainer.”

“Let’s not try to eliminate any one group that might need networking opportunities,” said Baines.