There is a growing illness sweeping across campus. It started with the lightest of symptoms: an occasional logo plastered across a flier or sign and a spread of Red Bull cars parked outside the campus buildings, handing out free samples to passing students. Now it seems to be growing to larger proportions.
Two weeks ago, there was a large truck set up between the M.D. Anderson Memorial Library and Philip Guthrie Hoffman Hall accompanied with a professional disc jockey and several go-go dancers on pedestals, trying desperately to sell students Coke Zero.
This circus act of advertising was more gaudy and hilarious than alluring — the dancers stepping awkwardly in their four-by-four squares, kicking their legs in a slow and unenthusiastic manner and trying to pass these movements off as dance. It appeared as if not even the dancers and DJ wanted to be there.
This erroneous display of campus advertising was a demonstrative symptom of a worrying disease: the privatization of education.
On some level, it’s understandable. These new dining halls, parking lots, residence halls and football stadiums are not entirely paid for by donations and government funding.
Although there are many donations coming to the University from affluent families and charitable foundations, evidence shows corporations are still paying to send people to the University for the explicit reason of peddling their goods to students. It’s the perfect marketing place — a concentrated population of their target audience: 18- to 24-year-olds with some degree of purchasing power, the ideal demographic for consuming energy drinks and sodas.
Imagine the advertisers who would show up if they could pay to get time in elementary and middle schools. There could exist a world where Pepsi and Toys R’ Us could hold demonstrations in kindergarten classes.
That is not this world, however, because we still live in a society that holds education to a degree of sanctity — a degree that is apparently lessening with every passing day. At more universities than just UH, our campus grounds are becoming hot beds for marketing and advertising.
Our education is becoming less about bettering ourselves in hopes of a better future and more about making the youth of America better consumers. You would imagine we wouldn’t need any help, but every day, receiving a higher education is just making you a larger target for big corporations to sell you something.
A university’s main purpose should be educating its students and not shamelessly peddling of soft drinks. It’s distracting and quite frankly annoying to walk around campus only to run into a mob of students swarming someone with free sample bags.
It’s almost understandable that UH would so openly take whatever corporate sponsorship is thrown at them. It becomes a type of financial pragmatism of delivering the best classrooms and the best materials it can get. Yet that does not reduce the shamefulness of selling the campus and students.
Patrick Larose is a creative writing senior and may be reached at email@example.com.