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Credit: Ethan Wu

The downtown. The BYO. The frat party. These and their variants are the social currency that we engage with at the “social Ivy.” Our “work hard, play hard” mentality permeates every aspect of our Penn experience. While Sundays and Mondays are reserved exclusively for the grind, the rest of the week tempts students into a precarious balancing act. White Claw Wednesdays with a problem set chaser. Thursday night downtown, Friday night frat party, and Saturday night mixer. If it’s a midterm week, well, guess it’s also a no-sleep week.

Going out on the weekends is a tradition at American universities. Particularly at Penn, these excursions are meant to be a respite from the crushing weight of classwork, exams, job searches, and extracurriculars. But at this university and other elite colleges, “going out” is more often an extension, not a respite, from the rampant competition and pre-professionalism that dominate this campus. At its best, going out lets students indulge in destructive behaviors that are ultimately dangerous for the mind and body. At its worst, it is a mindless pursuit for clout and social eminence powered by wealth and privilege. In either case, Penn students need to do less of it. 

It’s no secret to students here that binge drinking is awful for your health. Penn students have an unhealthy and well-documented relationship with alcohol and other drugs. While of course college is the first time that many students have the freedom to experiment with substances for the first time, the majority of Penn undergraduates drink to escape, not to have fun. 

Penn students hold themselves to ridiculously high standards, and are willing to subject themselves to a crushing amount of work and stress to achieve their goals, which very often demand nothing less than perfection. Perfection is exhausting, so there’s nothing more enjoyable than to get a little messy on the weekend, to surrender control to a shot of vodka or ten. Moderation is not in the vocabulary of the typical Penn student, who in the early morning hours inevitably finds themself not in bed but in a club downtown or in Van Pelt Library. The Penn lifestyle of lurching between these extremes is a wonderfully efficient way of squeezing every last drop of dopamine from the brain. These behaviors, which should theoretically help one feel better, only serve to exacerbate their stress and misery. 

While going out is supposed to allow for a release, at Penn, it is also a way of enhancing social standing. Especially during the formal rush period in the springtime, fraternities spend an exorbitant amount of funds on axe-throwing retreats, dinners at Brazilian steakhouses, and cruises to New York City. Even during the rest of the year, Penn students pride themselves on the number of downtowns that they can cram into their Google calendar and the number of the days of the week that they can spend drinking or smoking at some bar or club. Penn students are said to do a mental calculus, where they seek to optimize their GPA, minimize their time spent studying, and maximize the time spent partying and otherwise increasing clout. What these calculations don’t take into account is sleep, rest, and other activities that are necessary to lead a healthy and happy lifestyle. 

Penn’s social scene is in desperate need of an overhaul. Although frat parties, downtowns, and all the rest have the capacity to be enjoyable activities, Penn’s culture has a way of enticing people to drink beyond their limit and of making everything into a competition of social capital. Although it is not the most appealing option, the best solution to navigating this toxic culture is to limit your exposure to it. Philadelphia is a rich and vibrant city with countless alternatives to choose from, from shows to cultural sites. Moreover, it is far easier to genuinely get acquainted with Penn’s accomplished student population while your BAC is below .05. While there is nothing wrong with going clubbing or rolling frats every now and then, Penn students do it to an excessive degree. For the sake of their physical and mental well-being, Penn students need to exercise moderation more and go out less.

JAMES MORRISON is a College sophomore from Pipersville, P.A. studying English. His email address is jmorr2@sas.upenn.edu.  

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