Young people stand in small groups and lounge on benches in the sun, chatting and sipping beer and wine. Others walk to grab glasses of champagne or soda, or to refill their cups at one of four free-flowing kegs. Toward the back of the patio, people sit at picnic tables munching on slices of pizza and other snacks. Near the entrance, revelers line up to get through security. All food and drinks are on the house.

This isn’t an outdoor festival or VIP party—it’s just a regular Thursday afternoon at UC Law SF. Five times a semester, from 3:30 p.m. until the beer runs out, Beer on the Beach takes over the concrete plaza in front of 198 McAllister Street. (If it’s raining, the event sometimes moves indoors to the Law Cafe or the Louis B. Mayer Lounge.) Some 500 students—around half of the student body—stop by at each gathering to socialize, enjoy the refreshments, and catch their breath between classes.

“Because our school is in the center of a city, it doesn’t have a quad like most universities,” said 3L Myell Mergaert, who is president of the Associated Students of UC Law SF (ASUCH) and organized last year’s events as director of community affairs. “Beer on the Beach becomes that meeting place where everyone can come together.”

On March 26, 2020, however, Beer on the Beach will be held for the last time at its current location. After that, the beloved happy hour events will relocate to a fresh spot on campus as part of UC Law SF’ innovative plans to construct a new academic village in the heart of San Francisco. The academic buildings at 198 McAllister Street and 50 Hyde Street will give way to 618 new campus housing units and related amenities, including ground-floor spaces that integrate with the surrounding community. Meanwhile, a new LEED Platinum- certified academic building at 333 Golden Gate will open in January 2020.

The decade long project, developed in collaboration with UCSF, will reduce the campus’s carbon footprint while creating state-of-the art living and working spaces for students and faculty from both universities. Shared classrooms, clinical spaces, institutes, and departments will enable collaboration across schools and among professional and graduate stu- dents across many disciplines. Overall, the project will involve constructing or rehabilitating structures across three-fourths of UC Law SF’ current two-block footprint.

A Deep-Rooted Tradition

Even though the “beach,” such as it is, will be no more, Mergaert hopes that the spirit of Beer on the Beach stays alive no matter where it is held in the future. It’s unclear exactly when the tradition got its start, but the “beach” has been the setting for countless community events since the 198 McAllister build-ing was built in 1953. The “patio,” as it was known in its early days, was the site of protests over the war in Vietnam, apartheid, and sexism. The locale got its nickname in 1983, when the Alumni Association dumped sand in the plaza for a Last Day of Classes Celebration. Since then, the “beach” has hosted orientation lunches, apartheid protests, and of course, plenty of Beer on the Beach.

In more recent years, the events have become about much more than eating and drinking. Student or faculty organizations sponsor each gathering, which includes providing food and engaging with students. Last year, the school’s moot court team planned a March Madness-themed event; Outlaw, the LGBTQIA student organization, led an awareness campaign around gender identity; the Trial Team promoted its tryouts; and clinical programs shared information about their offerings. Other student events, such as fundraisers and bar nights, often followed Beer on the Beach.

Mergaert says the events are a way to promote wellness and foster a sense of belonging in what can be a stressful academic environment. “Especially in your first year, it can be hard to have a sense of community with your peers because you feel pitted against each other and worry about whether others are better than you,” he said. “At Beer on the Beach, you can have really meaningful conversations, be fun and silly, and find a place to breathe. The mask of law school goes away, and you get to see people relaxed and who they really are.”

For Mergaert, those interactions have led to connections that are likely to last far beyond graduation. “Beer on the Beach was always the beginning of something, whether that was going on to dinner or bowling or mini-golf,” he said. “It really facilitated a lot of my friend- ships in my first year. It’s somewhere with a place for everyone.”

Mergaert says even more fleeting connections have proved beneficial by strengthening his professional network. “I may have a really great conversation with someone from my civil procedure class. Next time, it’ll be easier to start a conversation or ask that person a question,” he said. “Even if I never see him again during law school, we’ll remember each other if we meet again five years from now. It’s been a really good networking tool and expanded my community.”

Now, Mergaert and his fellow law students look forward to celebrating the last Beer on the Beach in style, as it’s been such an important part of their law school experience.

“Whatever new form Beer on the Beach takes in this next stage of its life, I hope it stays true to what it is,” he said. “I think it’s a great community event and

a really important social mechanism for facilitating positive, healthy relationships and building networks.” After all, he said, “it’s tradition.”

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