Kajol Marathe argues that Fresher’s Week is structured excessively around alcohol consumption
“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters; that’s our one imperative need. So as not to feel Time’s horrible burden that breaks your shoulders and bows you down, you must get drunk without ceasing.”
Baudelaire’s light-hearted remarks on drunken numbness and perpetual intoxication represent the mentality of Fresher’s Week and much of university life. Orientation week, Frosh Week, Welcome Week or Freshers’ Week is first and foremost undoubtedly centred around having fun and meeting as many new people as possible. For many new students, alcohol acts as a social catalyst, disguised as a pint glass or just another shot. With its powers, friendships are made and awkwardness is easily overcome. But what about people who don’t drink during Freshers? How is their Freshers week impacted – can they really get involved with university life in the same way? A month on, I attempt to analyse the intricacies and complexities that drinking brings to Fresher life.
“It was tough being sober during Freshers, but I wouldn’t change it” said Milo. Milo, a friend of mine, chose not to drink during Freshers Week because he knew that he was quite shy and that alcohol gave people confidence. After a few beers, people stopped caring so much about the little things – the things which alcohol temporarily covered up and made blind to the human eye.
“I just didn’t want people to prefer the drunk me and knowing myself I’d always want to be drunk to please them,” Milo added. “But over the next few weeks at university I gained my own confidence naturally so I didn’t care what people thought no matter what state I was in.”
On the contrary, imagining a Fresher’s week without alcohol to ease myself into university just didn’t exist for me. Whilst I understood Milo’s reasoning, the confidence bestowing powers of alcohol were precisely what I needed. Without overpriced double vodka cokes from Loop, hastily prepared journey juices and general liquid courage, my first year would have been very different. The drink permeated my freshers’ week, culminating in a haze of intoxication and nights where I often forced myself to go out. Despite all of this, I was hardly aware of just how integral it was to freshers’ week.
Most non-alcoholic fresher events occurred during the day, and seemed non-existent during the evening. This year, there were a few events that did not involve drinking, (such as the Medics’ Scavenger Hunt) which was encouraging. However, this doesn’t seem enough for me. In my year, I noticed that people who drank were grouped into the “being fun and going out category” very early on in the year, excluding those who preferred binge-free outings, and seemed to stay in these set groups – this is unfair at best.
I wanted to find out more experiences from non-drinkers and how their freshers week differed. Soon enough, however, it became clear that most of my friends did drink and those who didn’t were in the tiniest minority. Clearly, alcohol had already silently shaped my friendship groups in a way I hadn’t even thought of.
So how just how much of a difference did alcohol make to those who chose not to drink? One first-year medic remarked “I think it does make a difference and that Fresher’s is very focused around drinking. You need to have a bit of courage as a non-drinker to not go with the crowd in that respect. I still had fun, but felt less inclined to get involved due to the heavy drinking aspect of pretty much all the events.”
It seems unfair that alcohol can deter freshers from partaking in certain activities. Sports Night immediately comes to mind, with large amounts of alcohol being consumed on Wednesday nights. Not everyone drinks, however, and whilst there’s no obligation to, the whole atmosphere can be pressurising for new students. And whilst I’ve noticed that a few people drinking lemonade or even water instead of booze during Sports Nights, they may feel left out regardless.
Clearly, alcohol had already silently shaped my friendship groups in a way I hadn’t even thought of.
For these reasons it’s obvious that Freshers’ culture is too dependent on drinking. Booze is one of those past-times that simply can’t be evaded on campus; it’s inescapable and permeates every aspect of university life. There is also, at least within the Medical School, a certain hypocrisy when it comes to drinking. Alcohol is seemingly put on a pedestal despite its health dangers, whilst those who occasionally smoke or use recreational drugs are patronisingly reprimanded for their dangerous behaviours.
Alcohol is equally addictive and can put you into dangerous situations just as easily as recreational drugs: it’s just glamorised more in the context of university. Alcohol related deaths are still commonplace, and with the peer pressure associated with binge-drinking it is still hard to be perceived as a non-drinker. Things need to change and alternatives to drinking should be opened up.
Ultimately it is up to students to decide how they want to spend their Freshers’ week. However, alcohol shouldn’t be a prerequisite to have fun, especially in a university as diverse as UCL. We should continue to promote Freshers’ events that do not involve heavy drinking, for a Freshers’ week that is as inclusive as it is enjoyable.