Head-to-head: Are student events too focused on Alcohol?

Image Credit: Unsplash Licence: Giovanna Gomes

Have College Society Events become too centred around alcohol? Michael Bergin and Fionan Minogue discuss.

YES - Fionán Minogue

Alcohol has unarguably become a key component in student events. A moderate consumption can take the edge off a person’s social awkwardness. The average college student’s consumption seems to positively sharpen that edge into a Samurai sword. I believe that the ever-presence of alcohol at college society events have had no true positive influence. Willing participants are encouraged to bathe in its glory and to resultantly, end up looking like a complete fool. Who can forget the Agricultural Sciences students two years back during ‘Ag Week’, encouraged by our existing social fabric to drink pints until one of them emitted a flurry of vomit into a nearby bucket? A school that the UCD website describes most glowingly as “the first destination of choice for Agriculture and Food Science undergraduate and graduate programmes in Ireland”. Would the sight of this pint-drinking event cause some to consider this statement more akin to collegiate bluster rather than reality? I believe that such an alcoholically induced sight is an utter embarrassment. Students considered the event the social highlight of ‘Ag Week’. Is this what college is about? ‘Drink until you drop’, to the cheers of the masses? Possibly, one could say that speaks more to the values of the students at UCD. However, one could also readily say that this culture is largely pervaded by our college societies and what they promote as socially acceptable in the college. The relevant UCD society conceived this idea, they even produced the ‘sick-buckets’ to assist with its birth! I cannot imagine that all participants in such events would even want to take part in that event in the exact format to where it was planned out. They could well have been simply fitting in unquestioningly with the norm the society event created. It seems to me that you either drink to excess at these events, or sit out on the sub’s bench. 

Even if you don’t go as far as to drink to the excess of our champion agricultural scientists, what of the other difficulties that result from drinking? Think about it. Consider any nightclub, in any place, that you’ve ever visited. The event can be a society night-out or not. What of the swaying, drunken, barely 18 year olds in the corner? The whiskey-powered cringe romantics? The wannabe Tyson Fury’s? ‘The drink’ completely cultivates this unadulterated horror-show. I think the resulting conclusion that alcohol leads to a completely unnatural social situation is an obvious one. We aren’t all as inherently pathetic as alcohol can make us look. It seems we are constantly advised to act ‘ourselves’ in college - to find people that are suited to us. To meet like-minded people of our own. If society events are considered the social fulcrum, how can this be accomplished when prodded by alcohol’s greasy palms? We often act completely abnormally when drinking. Are my classmates supposed to bond with me over our shared alcoholic embarrassments from a hazy night-out in Harcourt Street? Or will they likely think that I am simply an embarrassment when boozed-up? Or, even better, due to a litre of a certain Russian delicacy, they might have forgotten the whole night completely! Does this not appear a bit absurd to anybody else? Alcohol creates an intrinsically unnatural social environment. 

Minor alcoholic embarrassment is only one side of the coin. There often can exist a more sinister aspect to alcohol’s influence. A recent study on UCD students has found that 40% of those surveyed often do not attend college after a night out drinking. Society events are almost exclusively mid-week. How would anyone be able to attend Ancient Rome the following morning if they had the type of ‘fun’ that alcohol fuelled society events encourage them to have? On a completely practical level, an alcoholically focused society event is not conducive to students giving their utmost to their studies. 

Furthermore, drunken behaviour has often consequently led to damage to property. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic many of us saw the videos of drunken damage at College Court in Limerick and the Spanish Arch area of Galway city. People need to party. I understand. However, I do not believe that the enjoyable aspects to such congregations are from the alcohol itself per se. It's only practical role is to cultivate a breeding ground for everything from minor ‘bad behaviour’ to other actions that are completely criminal. If we view society events as some of the chief social events at college to have an alcoholic focus, then it appears reasonable to suggest that they could become a vehicle for similar unfortunate behaviour to occur, if they have not already.

Rebuttal to YES - Michael Bergin

Not to alarm any budding republicans, but it seems that the remnants of Oliver Cromwell are alive and well, and currently contributing to the comment section of this paper. My colleague’s principled but puritan polemic insists that students partaking in “Ag week” events were forced to participate by social pressures. I would like to invite my colleague to an Ag Soc event some time, for you will not find a closer-knit bunch. While we’re at it, UCD’s Ag school is ranked as the 24th best in the world, the 5th best in Europe, and the best in Ireland, so perhaps my colleague may like to choose a more appropriate stereotype to thrash about.

My colleague’s concerns that alcohol-fuelled students will rampage about causing property damage is a widely-held view amongst those who get their news from Facebook, and has nothing to do with society events.

In closing, I would ask that my colleague relax and pour themselves a nice stiff drink.

NO - Michael Bergin

College life in 21st century Ireland can be nigh-on abysmal at the best of times. Students eat a consistent diet of pot noodles and assignments, they sleep for roughly four hours a week, and they do almost more flirting with bankruptcy than they do with each other. 

Almost.

And yet, the shining beacons in the midst of this hormone-soaked, pseudo-academic lifestyle are college societies. An opportunity to meet like minded folk who share your interests presents itself in these groups, and the best way to do that is by going to society events.

There’s usually something for everyone at these events, be you a pub quiz fanatic, a budding musician, or just someone who wants to chat with new people. There is of course, no pressure to go to any of these events, and once you’re there, there’s certainly no pressure to take part in anything you’re not comfortable with.

Which is why it’s so frustrating every year to hear the familiar cries about society events focusing too heavily on alcohol. Yes, alcohol is a factor at some of these events, but certainly not all of them, and in fact, it's probably a stretch to say it's even at half of these events.

The renewed attack on the prevalence of alcohol is usually argued to be for the benefit of the students, whose health may suffer from excessive alcohol consumption. However, a point in these students’ lives must be reached where they are treated as adults. Talking down to students about their alcohol consumption habits is condescending and ultimately useless, much like putting gruesome photographs on cigarettes. 

These are functioning, cognitive adults, they know the risks, and they are more than capable of making their own decisions. Talking down to them only increases the chances of them not listening. Frankly, if condescension is met with ignorance, I would have no objections.

The case is also made that the focus on alcohol at some of these events, (such as nights out to pubs and clubs), can alienate incoming students who choose not to drink. Ireland does have a growing number of people who choose not to drink, for a myriad of reasons. I count myself amongst them. And yet, when I make a decision for myself, knowing that it is not the decision of the majority, I do not expect the world to change to suit me. 

Apart from the most zealous few, do vegetarians expect people to stop selling meat? Do those who choose a religious life expect scientists to stop their experiments? In all my years of going out and choosing not to drink, I have never once been made light of, been judged, or been forced to drink. Perhaps I have been lucky, but nonetheless, it seems that when it comes to condescension and judgement, it is inexplicably the preserve of those who choose a sober life.

What is the end goal of those who say there is too much alcohol in college life? Is it severely restricted events and nights out, or is it a campus-wide prohibition altogether? Does the Clubhouse, a favourite amongst students and societies for nights out, have to close its doors to societies? Does it have to close its doors entirely? Simply saying that there is “too much” alcohol in college life leaves the door open to the most extreme of measures. Giving time to a lobby that seemingly has no end goal, but the continued proliferation of their influence is dangerous to college life, and a worrying precedent to set. We mustn’t let the outraged few dictate the lives of all.

College is a time of new experiences, of meeting new friends, and of making incredible memories. And yet, if we act against college societies and their events, we are putting all that at risk. For what, exactly? Are we putting restrictions on college society events in order to placate a tiny minority? At the expense of the vast majority? Are we on our way to criminalising alcohol, in much the same vein as we have already semi-criminalised cigarettes?

I understand that alcohol can be dangerous, and when consumed, should of course be consumed responsibly. However, I also understand that experience teaches what statistics and analysis never could. In college, we must allow our young people to be free to make their own mistakes, trusting them to learn their lessons from these mistakes. Any other course of actions would be disgustingly regressive. Students must have choices open to them. If I choose not to drink, I do not want somebody else in my position not to have that choice. If for no other reason, I certainly do not want decisions regarding my life to be made for me, and others, by Andrew Deeks.

Rebuttal to NO - Fionán Minogue

The other writer appears to believe that the key reason why the current focus on alcohol at society events should be maintained is that college students are fully functioning adults and can think for themselves. This may be true. However, does the behaviour that I have discussed in my piece lead one to immediately think – ‘that is a fully-functioning adult’? Drinking to excess and accordingly acting with flagrant disregard and stupidity appears to me to be completely childish. Why should you be treated like an adult if you are not acting like one? Furthermore, the other writer appears to constantly cling to the idea that what I am endorsing is a complete ‘prohibition’ of alcohol at society events in a simplistic sense. That is not correct. What we are considering is the excessive focus on alcohol at some society events and the images that are thus reflected on the student body and UCD as a whole. What I have argued is that the culture of alcoholically-based society events are not conducive to ‘having one or two’, but rather attempting to crawl into a taxi at four in the morning. Don’t worry, I don’t propose robbing the six-pack of Heineken from your fridge.