Arms extended eagerly over the makeshift bar, waiting for a Busch Light or serving of jungle juice. I didn’t see wrists marked with tick marks tracking drinks consumed. And I didn't expect to see this particular piece of advice heeded. But other more practical tips from the Alcohol ENU just days before seemed obscured by the social stigma surrounding advice about alcohol and the presentation’s lack of connection with students.
The unmixed Red Bull in my solo cup sharpened my focus on the real problem around me - not the dangerously overcrowded basement, not even the drinking – but our tendency not to take information about alcohol seriously. The attitude I felt at the party and surrounding the ENU struck me more than the actual drinking habits. With the combination of Alcohol Edu, the statistics in the ENU and a week of actual parties, I began to develop more informed opinions about college drinking culture. It felt like a reasonable thing to do, to balance the two learning experiences. I concluded the two seemed really far apart. What I saw at these welcome week parties and what I learned at Alcohol ENU weren't in sync.
Perhaps some of us actively try to ignore facts about alcohol; we place our decisions about alcohol in a separate part of our minds, a section for habits we enjoy and may not want to reconsider. But we should be wary of the wall insulating our actions while drinking from the information and advice about alcohol, an appropriate consideration during National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week. Let's examine what might be a social stigma, an assumption, or simply the choice that “ignorance is bliss.”
Often freshman enter Wildcat Welcome with the "overestimation of normative drinking levels" discussed in the Alcohol ENU course. Sometimes, however, acting overzealous about drinking will make us look even more like freshman who were recently liberated from living at home. Yet, we sometimes still shotgun another beer (or try to) too eagerly, even though who we’re dancing with probably stopped drinking hours ago or (gasp) is only drinking Monster.
But we should attack the assumption that if we're not hungover Friday-Sunday morning, we're not "doing college right." Over half of Northwestern University students reported drinking “within low risk quantity limits” or nor drinking at all last time they went out. Nearly a quarter of Northwestern students don't drink at all. Hopefully we can open our minds when our friends say we have had too much, and utilize information that could help us realize that ourselves.
Especially in social situations, “most people don’t realize how much alcohol can impair them. Four to five drinks in two hours time may put them over the limit,” Daniel McAleer, Deputy Chief of the Northwestern University Police Department, said in a phone interview.
This recognition could help us enjoy Cheesie’s with friends instead of stumbling into them in Friday morning discussion sections and help us feel more comfortable considering responsible drinking or not drinking altogether. More importantly, greater responsibility can reduce the dangers McAleer said the department worries most about: driving under the influence and sexual violence.
“Remember it’s a personal choice,” said Communication sophomore Mark Davis, who said the cultural expectation about drinking brought to college is an important aspect of understanding how students approach the ENU. Many of us made thoughtful observations following ENUs on other topics. So we should work on engaging in mature discussions about drinking with friends and evaluate our own habits as well.
We don’t need to have a round table conversation about it, but maybe we can break away from the awkward, formal dialogue of an ENU and become more comfortable with discussing our decisions regarding alcohol. Weinberg freshman Matt Herndon said he thought the other ENUs were better than the Alcohol ENU, although he found some of the statistics informative, such as the amount of alcohol in different types of drinks.
While walking around campus, I overhear students using a tool provided by an NUPD officer as part of National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week to estimate blood alcohol levels. During the week, officers are available to discuss preventive programs about high-risk drinking, ways to contact help for friends in need of medical attention and other issues with students and faculty, said McAleer.
Granted, the students joked about the number of shots it would take to reach certain levels, but the information and the dialogue was there. A bigger emphasis on creating a more interesting and interactive Alcohol ENU could help engage this crucial dialogue, building on the information already given, but with a greater attempt to connect with students and understand the fundamental perspective freshman have toward college drinking.
Tips like “alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks” and “don’t drink the jungle juice” make sense. Davis, sharing advice he considers particularly effective, said “Stick together, know your limit and don’t be afraid to call for help.”
McAleer also emphasized the need to pay attention to your friends, make sure not to leave them behind and walk them back home or call for help if needed.
Jesse Kramer, a Medill freshman, added that sometimes you can tell your friends the alcohol is finished because, at that point, they probably won’t notice. Such advice from students actually reflects elements of lessons in the ENU about how to help out friends at parties. The presentation made some good points, as creators of the Alcohol ENU, university presentations on topics in the college transition, attempted to discuss responsible drinking with an underage audience. Maybe a more engaging ENU and a more open student attitude toward the presentation could share advice in a more casual, interactive conversation, like a breakout session, along with emphasizing the information students find most helpful and professionals find most important.
Before we pour another round of Ciroc – wait, let’s be real, Skol – we could ask ourselves why we’re drinking and how it will affect our night, our health and our social lives. We don’t need to preach about the superiority of our values, nor should we disregard facts presented to us. It takes real social confidence, maturity and knowledge to evaluate our own decisions regarding alcohol, an integral discussion we cannot be afraid to confront.