“What’s the one thing that brings every Penn student together?” demanded College senior Rachel Romeo in character during the Bloomers Skit at Freshman Performing Arts Night. “A shared love of intellectual engagement?” opined another character. “Wrong!” Romeo gleefully interposed. “Alcoholism!”
Ain’t that the truth. At Penn, it seems no party is complete, no weekend enjoyable, no social life satisfactory, without someone in our social circle “blacking out” because of binge drinking (defined as drinking roughly five standard drinks in a two-hour period). Yet our binge-drinking culture is not a foregone conclusion — it can, and should, change.
A campus without binge drinking would be a happier place. It would be a campus where parties were fun because we enjoyed the company we were in, not the liquor we were drinking. A campus where we drink wine, beer and spirits because they were delicious and classy rather than the cheapest way to get wasted. A campus where there would be no really, really bad hangovers.
So why do we binge drink? Christian Lunoe, Wharton senior and Interfraternity Council president, and Darby Nelson, College senior and Panhellenic Council president, both agreed it begins with our “work hard, play hard” ethic — or, as Nelson bluntly put it, when “you’re stressed out of your mind you just want to switch off.” It is certainly true that Penn is stressful, but this isn’t a wholly satisfactory explanation for binge drinking. After all, there are far better and cheaper ways to relieve stress — like, say, mixed fretwork classes — than wild partying which, if anything, increases your stress levels in the long run.
The core of the problem seems to be that drinking itself, rather than anything else, is the focus of many Penn social events. Romeo put it best: “If you don’t drink, you have to have a reason — drinking is the norm.” Lunoe noted that the “alcohol rager parties” thrown by excommunicated former fraternities gave those organizations a “reputation for having a great time.” In a world where alcohol is the be-all and end-all of social discourse, a reputation for fun comes to those who have the most alcohol.
Yet for many seniors, our fondest memories are the times we spent with friends and maybe a few beers, not the time when we went mad between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. one Thursday night. What we need are more social events that are fun in their own right, not just as an excuse to lose our minds. Here’s one example: If every senior could attend wine- and beer-tasting classes, we could start to see the growth of a culture of alcohol as classy rather than just alcoholic. It may not change the behavior of all or even many of the seniors, but those experiences will trickle down to the younger classes and slowly but surely the culture would start to change. But new, fun events can’t come into being without demand, and demand begins with recognition that Penn social life can be better than night after night of alcohol ragers.
It is often argued that Penn students drink less than, say, their peers in state schools. Perhaps they do (though Julie Lyzinski, the director of the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Initiatives, argued that we’re not too different). But the problems of others do not absolve us from doing what we can to address our own issue. This is, whatever it is elsewhere, a Penn student problem with Penn student solutions. All they require is a bit of patience, a lot of imagination and a willingness to start talking about how to improve Penn social life. And, of course, we must recognize that social life on campus could be better, that drinking could be classy and that we have the power to make it so.
Alec Webley is a College senior from Melbourne, Australia. He is the former chairman of the Undergraduate Assembly. His e-mail address is webley@theDP.com. Smart Alec appears on Thursdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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